Software Nerd

Monday, September 17, 2007

SCOTUS case on limits to "faith based" programs

An interesting case (Teen Ranch, et al., v. Udow, et al.) has made its way to the SCOTUS. Here are the facts, as I understand them from a brief reading alone:

Current law -- not the U.S. Constitution, but Federal law and Michigan state law -- allow the government to use the services of faith-based organizations, to give them vouchers, etc., under certain conditions:
  • Even though the organization is faith-based, the programs themselves are not [aside: this is my own reading, but appears somewhat disputed]
  • Individuals receiving benefits via such programs are allowed to object to the faith-base nature of the organizations, and must be offered an alternative

The law allows the government to deal with such organizations without making them change their internal governance, nor requiring them to remove religious icons and symbols, icons.

The state of Michigan deals with just under 100 organizations that provide rehab-services (I assume for juvenile delinquents). Over 30 of these are faith-based. However, only one -- an organization called "Teen Ranch" -- includes religious activities in its program.

A recent audit by the state found that it should not deal with Teen Ranch, because its programs have religious elements. [Oddly, the state has dealt with them since 1966! Better late than never? Or could it be that the Democrat governor is hitting out at opponents?] Either way, the state told Teen Ranch: "It is not only improper to force youth to participate in religious
practices, but it is also improper to incorporate religious teachings into the on-going daily activities of youth and their treatment plans."

When Teen Ranch sued, the District Court and the Circuit Court both upheld the government's position that the youths were not being offered a true choice of an alternative. In another case -- Freedom from Religion Foundation v. McCallum -- another Circuit Court seems to have upheld a similar religion-based program, with a similar opt-out clause.

So, now, the SCOTUS gets to decide.



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