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Victory for Faith-Based Groups Partnering with the Government

Federal Judge throws out church-state lawsuit challenging faith-based initiative


Contact: Christy Postell, Christian Legal Society's Center for Law & Religious Freedom, 703-642-1070 ext. 3506


TACOMA, Wash., Mar. 21 /Christian Newswire/ -- A Federal court dismissed a lawsuit yesterday afternoon against the Northwest Marriage Institute, a faith-based social service provider, and Institute for Youth Development, a nonprofit agency that partnered with the Department of Health and Human Services to provide federal grant funding to Northwest Marriage.


The lawsuit was brought by thirteen Washington taxpayers who argued Northwest Marriage's religious nature excluded it from participation in government programs under the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. The Christian Legal Society's Center for Law & Religious Freedom defended the Institute for Youth Development in the lawsuit, along with CLS member Theo Vander Wel of Bellevue, Washington.


Pursuant to a Compassion Capital Fund grant from the Administration for Children & Families of the Department of Health & Human Services, the Institute for Youth Development gave Northwest Marriage a grant to develop its capacity to compete for larger federal program grants.


The plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenged the IYD grant and two other direct grants from ACF, arguing that because Northwest Marriage was religious in nature, any funding of it violated the Establishment Clause. Yesterday's decision by Judge Franklin D. Burgess observed that "[I]t has never been held that religious institutions are disabled by the First Amendment from participating in publicly sponsored social welfare programs."


"We are grateful that the court strongly affirmed what the U.S. Supreme Court has said many times," said Steven H. Aden, chief litigation counsel for the Center for Law & Religious Freedom. "Faith-based organizations are not required to abandon their religious mission and viewpoint when they cooperate with the government to address pressing social problems."


The court also stated that a religious organization such as Northwest Marriage, existing to provide resources and counseling to support healthy marriages, serves as a benefit to society regardless of religious affiliation.


"Faith-based organizations committed to serving the public should receive the same opportunities to advance their mission as secular social service providers," continued Aden. "Organizations like Northwest Marriage provide fundamental resources essential to maintaining a stable and moral society."


Christianson v. O. Leavitt was brought in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, Tacoma Division. IYD's Motion to Dismiss can be viewed here and yesterday's Order here.


The Christian Legal Society, founded in 1961, is the national membership organization of Christian attorneys, judges, law professors and law students. CLS has chapters in all 50 states and more than 1100 cities.