The Freedom From Religion Foundation, bold atheists that they are, is at it again, this time filing a lawsuit to prevent the state of North Dakota from poviding funding for the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch, a residential facilty for troubled teens.
The Ranch, a joint ministry of the Luthern Church-Missouri Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, combines traditionally-accredited treatment services with an array of religious programs. Most of its funding (70%) comes from local, state, and federal sources (the latter are not at issue in the suit), but Carol Olson, executive director of North Dakota’s Human Services Department says that the religious programs are funded privately. According to Gene Kaseman, president of the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch Association, ‘‘They [the state] audit us pretty carefully,’’ he said. ‘‘None of (that money) is spent on spiritual life programs.’’ State officials agree. The FFRF response:
It would be difficult for the Boys and Girls Ranch to keep public and private money separate, said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Even if that is possible, she said, public money frees up more private money for religious purposes.
‘‘The whole purpose of this ranch is to proselytize and indoctrinate,’’ she said.
The lawsuit is a bold attack on what has been a very traditional mode for providing social services in North Dakota and across the country. The complaint of course doesn’t stress the secular treatment services the Ranch provides, which are lauded in
this recent accreditation report. The accrediting agency--the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities--did not cite any failure to live up to its standard requiring "commitment to diversity," recommending only that the Ranch "develop a written plan on cultural competency and diversity that includes the recruitment of individuals who are representative of the specific cultures the organization serves...." The accreditors found no problems in the Ranch’s financial management and accounting procedures, which certainly weakens the claim that public and private funds aren’t or can’t be kept separate.
Indeed, the real FFRF complaint is that any public money at all goes to such an organization. As FFRF president Annie Laurie Gaylor notes, public money, even if spent on publicly permissible services, frees up private funds for religious ends. If faith-based organizations want to serve the public, they should have to pay for the whole range of services themselves. Not only is this theory out of line with the requirements courts have typically placed on public contracting and cooperation with faith-based social service providers, but it would impose an incredible hardship on folks needing services in a sparsely populated state like North Dakota. Without the public money, the Ranch would probably be able to serve only a small fraction of its current clientele; others whould be compelled to seek assistance out of state. Alternatively, the state could set up its own program, probably offering something of lower quality at greater expense to the taxpayers. Thanks, but no thanks.
Here’s hoping that the FFRF loses big-time. (Please note also that if they win, the cost of the suit will be shared by the taxpayers and the Ranch. This is how the FFRF finances much of its aggressive litigation program. Would that it could be otherwise.)