Challenged grants have been struck down as

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challenged grants have been struck down as unconstitutional. Those who see faith-based groups as exceptionally effective allies in the battle against criminal recidivism, teen pregnancy, addiction and other social ills say these cases are rare, compared with the number of programs receiving funds, and should not tarnish the concept of bringing more religious groups into publicly financed programs, so long as any direct financing is used only for secular expenses. That concept has been embodied most prominently since 2001 in the Bush administration‟s Faith -Based and Community Initiative, a high-profile effort to encourage religious and community groups to participate in government programs. More than 100 cities and 33 states have established similar initiatives, according to Mr. Hein. The basic architecture of these initiatives has so far withstood
constitutional challenge, although the Supreme Court agreed on Dec. 1 to consider a case on whether taxpayers have legal standing to bring such challenges against the Bush administration‟s program. Defenders of these initiatives say they are necessary to eliminate longstanding government policies that discriminated against religious groups to provide a level playing field, as one White House study put it. But critics say the “level playing field” argument ignores the fact that giving public money directly to ministries that aim at religious conversion poses constitutional problems that simply do not arise when the money goes elsewhere. Converting Young People Those constitutional problems sharpen when young people are the intended beneficiaries of these transformational ministries. In recent years, several judges have concluded that children and teenagers, like prisoners, have too few options and too little power to make the voluntary choices the Supreme Court requires when public money flows to programs involving religious instruction or indoctrination. That was the conclusion last year of a federal judge in Michigan , in a case filed by Teen Ranch , a nonprofit Christian facility that provides residential care for troubled or abused children ages 11 to 17. In 2003, state officials imposed a moratorium on placements of children there, primarily because of its intensively religious programming. Lawyers for the ranch went to court to challenge that moratorium. “Teen Ranch acknowledges that it is overtly and unapologetically a Christian facility with a Christian worldview that hopes to touch and improve the lives of the youth served by encouraging their conversion to faith in Christ, or assisting them in deepening their pre- existing Christian faith,” observed a United States District judge, Robert Holmes Bell, in a decision released in September 2005. Although youngsters in state custody could not choose where to
be placed, they could refuse to go to the ranch if they objected to its religious character. As a result, the ranch‟s lawyers argued, the state money was constitutionally permissible.

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