Government pulls funding from Christian ministry for hiring within the faith

Some at-risk youth may remain so as a court decision remained pending after one state pulled funding from a Christian ministry group for hiring within the faith.

(Video: Fox News Digital)

Based in Medford, Oregon, the continued community service from 71Five Ministries spanning six decades potentially hinged on the judicial system after they filed suit against the state’s Department of Education. Speaking with Fox News Digital, executive director Bud Amundsen detailed how a new rule had been used to retract a grant award amounting to more than $400,000.

“It felt very much like a punch in the gut.”

Speaking of working with Oregon’s Youth Community Investment Grant Program since 2017, Amundsen expressed, “We were actually kind of one of their favorite programs.”

“When we were awarded the funding, we were happy to continue on with the partnership. And then to have it pulled and to have it pulled for that reason, I mean…[I was] like, how in the world could that happen?” he added.

Represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, 71Five Ministries filed suit in March against Oregon Department of Education Director Charlene Williams along with the department’s Youth Development Division Director Brian Detman and Deputy Director Cord Bueker, Jr. after they had determined that requiring staff to adhere to a “Statement of Faith” embodying Christian beliefs was discriminatory.

“Defendants for the first time decided to prohibit faith-based organizations from participating in the program if they prefer members of their own faith as employees and volunteers,” detailed the lawsuit. “This New Rule led to Defendants stripping 71Five Ministries of over $400,00 in grant awards just because the Christian ministry expects its employees and volunteers to share its religious beliefs and missions.”

Representing 71Five Ministries, ADF senior counsel Jeremiah Galus told Fox News Digital, “The Supreme Court three times in a period of seven years had to tell state officials, you cannot exclude religious organizations from your programs just because they’re religious.”

“But unfortunately, we see officials like the officials here in the state of Oregon who continue to push back and test those boundaries and try and find other ways to exclude religious organizations. It’s wrong,” he went on. “This is a situation where the state of Oregon did partner with 71Five for six consecutive years. No one disputes that 71Five admirably fulfilled the purposes of the grant program, that they’re doing good work for the youth. And so to just say, because you’re religious, because you have a religious staff somehow that keeps you from helping kids — the First Amendment doesn’t allow that. Our Constitution doesn’t permit that.”

“At the end of the day, this isn’t just a violation of 71Five constitutional rights, which is bad enough, but it’s actually hurting youth in Southern Oregon who are not able to access these services. 71Five is not able to expand its programs to help more kids, and that’s a tragedy,” said Galus.

“We want to make sure that 71Five is not excluded from any future grant programs,” he added, “and that no other religious organization suffers the same religious discrimination 71Five has.”

The suit sought reinstatement of the previously awarded 2023-25 grant and a determination that the state’s rule be deemed a violation of the First Amendment, as well as an award of compensatory and nominal damages, costs and fees, and any other relief deemed “equitable, just, and proper.”

According to Amundsen, “The amount of the grants was over 10% of our budget. And so to have that pulled obviously we have to go about…funding in a different way.”

“We’ve had to spend $187,000 in reserves to keep the programming at present,” the director revealed.

In line with his counsel, the ministry leader expressed, “My hope and goal is to not reduce staff, which will reduce access for young people.”

“I’ve had a variety of emotions related to that. And probably the best thing I could say is, now it feels like we’re very unappreciated, that our hard work has been basically tossed into the trash can simply because they disagree with our faith perspective,” lamented Amundsen.

Fox News Digital indicated that in response to a request for comment, Oregon’s Department of Education said, “The agency does not comment on pending legal cases.”

Kevin Haggerty

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