Taxpayer Funding Of 'faith-based' Social Services Violates Constitution, Says Federal Court

Wisconsin Decision Is Major Blow To Bush 'Faith-Based Initiative,' Says AU's Lynn

In a major blow to the Bush administration's "faith-based initiative," a federal district court in Wisconsin has struck down government funding of a religiously based social service program.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb on Jan. 8 ordered Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development to stop funding Faith Works, a Milwaukee agency that assists men with drug and alcohol addiction problems. The agency operates within a Christian framework, providing religious counseling as well as Bible study, chapel services and daily prayer time. 

In her Freedom from Religion Foundation v. McCallum ruling, Judge Crabb held that a state grant to the Faith Works "constitutes unrestricted, direct funding of an organization that engages in religious indoctrination" in violation of the church-state provisions of the First Amendment. 

Advocates of church-state separation hailed the ruling. 

"This is a tremendous victory for individual freedom," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "It is also a major blow to President Bush's 'faith-based initiative.' The provisions of the Bush initiative that offer funding of religion are now clearly unconstitutional, as many of us have been saying all along." 

President Bush visited the Faith Works agency in Milwaukee during his presidential campaign. State grants to Faith Works were approved under the administration of then-Gov. Tommy Thompson, who now serves in the Bush administration as secretary of Health and Human Services. 

The grant struck down by Judge Crabb comes from the Wisconsin governor's discretionary portion of federal funds allocated through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. This decision is the first federal court decision striking down federal aid to religious groups under the controversial "charitable choice" provisions of the 1996 federal welfare reform law. 

The challenge to funding of religion in Wisconsin was brought by the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.