Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Grant Funding Denial Raises Issue of When Content of Youth Programs Is Religious

A dispute is simmering in Bossier Parish, Louisiana over the denial of further state-administered federal grant funding to two youth programs operated by the Bossier Parish Sheriff's Office.  After an audit, the Justice Department's Office of Civil Rights concluded that the Young Marines program, and the related Youth Diversion program, contained religious content that could not be funded by federal grant money.  Details are set out in July 3 and  July 12 press releases from the Liberty Institute, as well as in a demand letter [.pdf] sent by Liberty Institute to the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement and to DOJ.

The main concern of DOJ seems to be a moment of silence that is included in each Youth Diversion program meeting.  Sheriff Julian Whittington refuses to sign a letter stating that there will be no prayer activities conducted during the Youth Diversion program. He says: "Enough is enough. This is the United States of America – and the idea that the mere mention of God or voluntary prayer is prohibited is ridiculous." It is unclear how much concern DOJ has also with the Young Marines Obligation and Creed which includes the following: "I shall never do anything that would bring disgrace or dishonor upon my God, my Country and its flag, my parents, myself, or the Young Marines."

UPDATE: Wall of Separation blog yesterday had more on the program, suggesting a greater religious component is involved.