March 6, 2008
The Appignani Humanist Legal Center (AHLC), the legal arm of the American Humanist Association (AHA), sent an information letter today to Morning Star Ranch, an evangelical training camp, advising the religious organization not to accept tax funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the purpose of “renovating facilities.”
“Morning Star Ranch is ineligible for government money,” declared Bob Ritter, legal coordinator of the AHLC. “Therefore, if the organization accepts and spends such funds, the organization could later be required to return them.”
Ritter explained the legal issue. “Since Morning Star Ranch is a pervasively sectarian organization, any award of tax dollars would be a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and HUD’s own regulations. The government can’t use tax dollars to endorse or aid religion; that is a breach of our cherished tradition of church-state separation. And religion is clearly integral to every aspect of Morning Star Ranch’s programs. This is why the organization is barred from receiving government funding.”
In a 2008 spending bill, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush on December 26, 2007, Senator Sam Brownback and Representative Jerry Moran had inserted an earmark of $595,000 for Morning Star Ranch. According to the Morning Star Ranch website at http://www.worldimpact.org/ministries/camps/msr.php, the ranch belongs to World Impact, an evangelical Christian mission organization. The ranch is primarily used for the group’s “Christian Leadership Training Program,” a two-year program for “single, urban young men, ages 18-25, who have made a commitment to Christ.” The facilities, located in Florence, Kansas, are also only “available to other Christian groups.”
“HUD’s regulations state that organizations that receive government funds ‘may not engage in inherently religious activities, such as worship, religious instruction, or proselytization, as part of the programs or services funded under a HUD program or activity,'” Ritter added. “Also, the regulations stipulate that funds can’t be used to rehabilitate facilities if those facilities are used for religious activities. These regulations couldn’t be more clear; Morning Star Ranch is ineligible for HUD funds due to the religious nature of the organization. Moreover, if the organization is improperly granted the funds, it puts itself at great risk if it accepts and spends those funds.”
“Religious groups aren’t barred from receiving federal funds,” noted AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt, “so long as there is some guarantee that the tax monies will be used exclusively for secular purposes. But there is no guarantee of that in this case. Morning Star Ranch is a sectarian religious camp where no Jews need apply, nor any other non-Christians, including humanists. Therefore, transfer of taxpayer dollars to this operation is a clear and outrageous violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
The AHLC indicated in its letter that it will continue to monitor the earmark and, should Morning Star Ranch apply to HUD for the earmarked funds to renovate facilities, and should HUD grant such funding, a federal court order will be sought to order HUD to recoup any and all funds that may have been granted.
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The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.
Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.