Sunday, April 14, 2024

State Revokes $400k in Grants for At-Risk Youth Ministry Due to Its Religious Beliefs

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A Christian ministry in Oregon is suing state officials after it was denied $400,000 in government funding because the organization requires employees and volunteers to sign and agree to its statement of faith.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a non-profit legal group, filed a motion Wednesday on behalf of 71Five Ministries requesting that a federal district court restore the Oregon youth ministry’s access to grant funding while a pending lawsuit continues against state officials who denied previously approved funding.

71Five Ministries serves young people in Oregon of all faiths and backgrounds, including at-risk youth, young people in detention centers and correctional facilities, and expectant and parenting teens, according to ADF.

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From 2017 to 2023, the ministry applied for—and was granted—funds from Oregon’s biennial Youth Community Investment Grants program.  

However, when the organization applied for funding for the next cycle they were denied due to a new rule that requires that applicants “not discriminate” based on religion “in (their) employment practices.”

ADF filed a lawsuit on behalf of the ministry this month claiming the agency’s “new rule” violated their client’s religious freedom guarantees. 

“All religious institutions in America are constitutionally protected to hire staff and work with volunteers who share their beliefs, and 71Five Ministries is no different,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus. 

He continued, “The state of Oregon is forcing 71Five and other religious ministries to choose between forfeiting their constitutionally guaranteed religious freedoms and participating in an otherwise available government program.”

ADF also filed a preliminary injunction earlier this week to block the funding cutoff.

Galus contends there’s no reason for Oregon officials to deny funding to the ministry. 

“Simply being religious shouldn’t disqualify an organization from a program that exists to help those in need,” he said. “By stripping 71Five of its funding, Oregon is giving religious ministries an impossible choice: hire those who reject your beliefs to receive funding that everyone else can access or go without the funding. We are urging the court to follow U.S. Supreme Court precedent that upholds the First Amendment freedom of faith-based organizations to hire like-minded individuals.”

71Five Ministries derives its name from Psalm 71:5, which says, “Lord God, you are my hope. I have trusted you since I was young.”

According to its website, the ministry has served the Rogue Valley community for 60 years and “exists to share God’s Story of Hope with young people through trusting relationships in any relevant way.”

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