State Funding for Faith-Based Program Challenged

The American Jewish Congress has announced that it is seeking a permanent injunction against the implementation of a state-funded job-training program in California because the program is open only to faith-based providers.

In a press release, the AJC stated that it believes the practice constitutes an unconstitutional preference for religion. The significance of the suit was magnified recently when the Department of Health and Human Services acknowledged that a grant program to prevent HIV and drug use had been similarly restricted to faith-based groups.

In the California suit, the AJC is challenging a faith-based initiative administered by the California Department of Employment Development under its temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program and is asking the court for a declaration that "the eligibility limitation to faith-based providers both in the proposal and in the budget item are unconstitutional, as well as for the issuance of an injunction prohibiting government funding of the project." The AJC is also asking the court that it be required that the "proposal be rebid without a faith-based limitation."

"This is the first-ever set-aside on a federal level for religion, and it is clearly discriminatory and unconstitutional," said AJC executive director Phil Baum. "We call on Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson to revise the program before applications are due in July. Should the program be presented in its current form, we will have no choice but to bring suit, as we have done in California."

The case will be heard in on June 19 in the Superior Court, State of California, for the County of San Francisco.

"AJCongress Lawsuit Challenges California Charitable Choice Program Similar in Terms to Just-Announced Federal Program" American Jewish Congress Press Release 05/17/2001.