Michigan state officials were correct to end funding of an evangelical Christian organization that offers religious programs for juvenile delinquents, a federal judge has ruled.
In 2003, the Michigan Family Independence Agency, which places troubled youth in private care facilities, decided to stop contracting with Teen Ranch, a Christian group that had been providing such services since the mid 1960s. The agency decided to break its ties with Teen Ranch after an investigation revealed that the ranch would not stop injecting its religious beliefs into its programs. Government officials cited a 2001 state law called the Public Act, barring the agency from directly funding religious work.
Teen Ranch, represented by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), sued the state arguing that its decision to stop providing grants was unconstitutional. In part, the Religious Right legal aid organization argued that the state had violated the ranch’s free exercise of religion.
U.S. District Judge Robert Holmes Bell dismissed all of ADF’s claims and ruled in favor of Michigan’s ban on funding Teen Ranch. According to Bell’s 30-page opinion in Teen Ranch v. Udow, the troubled youth were wards of the state and had no independent choice in determining the residential programs where they were placed.
Bell wrote that state officials could not, without violating the state law, continue to provide public financing to Teen Ranch, a pervasively sectarian facility.
In a Sept. 29 press release, the ADF said it would likely appeal the ruling.