Bush's Evangelical Marriage Brokers Win Legal Victory
Bill Berkowitz printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Mar 26, 2007 at 05:45:05 PM EST
Americans United lawsuit sought to block taxpayer money from being used by faith-based organizations to promote marriage

After suffering several legal defeats regarding its faith-based initiative, the Bush administration finally came up a winner. Last week, a federal court dismissed a lawsuit against the Northwest Marriage Institute, a conservative Christian faith-based social service provider, and Institute for Youth Development, a nonprofit agency that partnered with the Department of Health and Human Services to provide federal grant funding to Northwest Marriage. The decision by Judge Franklin D. Burgess pointed out that "[I]t has never been held that religious institutions are disabled by the First Amendment from participating in publicly sponsored social welfare programs."

"We are grateful that the court strongly affirmed what the U.S. Supreme Court has said many times," said Steven H. Aden, chief litigation counsel for the conservative legal outfit, the Center for Law & Religious Freedom. "Faith-based organizations are not required to abandon their religious mission and viewpoint when they cooperate with the government to address pressing social problems."

In 2005, the Vancouver, Washington-based Northwest Marriage Institute received two federal grants worth $97,750; a $50,000 Compassion Capital Fund grant came from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and a $47,750 sub-grant came from the Institute for Youth Development, an intermediary organization that distributes "faith-based" funds for HHS.

In early September of last year, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (Americans United) filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Tacoma, Wash., -- on behalf of 13 state residents -- against HHS, seeking to block taxpayer funding of the Northwest Marriage Institute program because it consists of "Bible-based" marriage education.

An Americans United press release declared that "The lawsuit against HHS, the Institute for Youth Development and the Northwest Marriage Institute has important national implications because the Bush administration is promoting massive federal funding for marriage programs."

"Congress has budgeted $500 million for marriage improvement programs over the next five years, and Religious Right activists are pushing to have most of the money allocated to conservative churches and other faith-based groups."

"This program trains people in how to make their marriages conform to one narrow interpretation of faith," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "The federal government has no business forcing the taxpayer to subsidize that."

"The Bush administration must not be allowed to join church and state in unholy matrimony," Lynn added.

Bible-based marriage counseling

According to the Northwest Marriage Institute's mission statement, it aims to provide "Bible education in marriage and related subjects, and to provide professional, Bible-based pre-marital and marriage counseling."

The organization works to preserve "Christian marriages" by "promot[ing] successful biblical principles for everyday life."

Dr. Bob Whiddon Jr., director of the Northwest Marriage Institute, told the New York Times that "The grants say that I'm allowed to do things that will allow me to increase the capacity of my organization to serve the community. None of what we do with the money is for religious purposes."

"The administration has failed to provide clear guidelines about what federal funds can be used for, said Robert W. Tuttle, a law professor at George Washington University who is an expert on religion-based initiatives," the New York Times reported.

"The government instructs organizations broadly that they are prohibited from using funds for religious purposes. But, he said, it does not answer the seemingly small, yet sometimes critical, questions that could occur in daily practice."

"For example, could software bought with federal money be used for religious purposes? Or is it acceptable to give federal money to improve the management practices of an obviously religious organization like the Northwest Marriage Institute, when those changes would affect both its secular work and religious mission?"

"The government studiously avoids clearing up these questions because it doesn't want to discourage people from applying and look hostile to faith groups," Professor Tuttle said. "I honestly don't think it would discourage people. Instead, it would give them a good sense of how to avoid being sued."


Government money boosts Biblical view of marriage

"The federal funding of the Northwest Marriage Institute glaringly indicates just how recklessly the Bush administration has been willing to use taxpayer dollars," Glenn C. Gerard recently wrote in a story posted at Counterbias titled "Lawsuit Intends to Force Bush Administration to Recognize Constitution."

Gerard, who has taught history, religion, and ethics at various colleges in the Southwest, is a contributing author to the forthcoming book "Americans at War," and writes on current politics for OrbStandard, pointed out that the Northwest Marriage Institute "doesn't even attempt to disguise itself as offering marital counseling and education programs that are apart from its religious objectives. To the contrary, they're one and the same."

"According to the institute, a majority of the residents of Washington do not attend church; therefore, 'the great need was to take biblical marriage education and biblical counseling to the communities.'"

"The institute is attempting to do this in part by offering something called 'temperament therapy,' which consists of 'discovering the way God made you.' This reportedly helps couples improve their marriage. The organization offers pre-marital and marriage-counseling programs that contain sessions entitled, 'God's Plan for a Healthy Marriage.'"

"In the programs, couples 'discover tools, embedded in God's Word, that can be used in real life to resolve real life problems.' This may or may not be true. But what is most certainly true is that American taxpayers shouldn't be paying for it."

"... According to the institute's literature, women are encouraged to follow the example of the New Testament and influence their husbands by remaining quiet. Women are instructed to remember 'the Bible says that the husband is the head of the wife.' And the counseling programs advise women that 'the Bible says that the wife should submit to the husband.'"

Conservative columnists paid by Bush Administration to promote marriage

Not only has marriage as an institution fallen on hard times in recent years, the marriage promotion industry has also taken a few hits during the past two years. As Media Transparency reported in January 2005, both Mike McManus and Maggie Gallagher "received ... checks from the Department of Health and Human Services to help promote the President's healthy marriages initiative."

McManus, who writes a column on "Ethics & Religion," was given $4,000 by HHS and his Potomac, Maryland-based organization, Marriage Savers, received, according to a USA Today report, $49,000 "from a group that receives HHS money to promote marriage to unwed couples who are having children."

Still plugging away at marriage issues, in one recent column McManus cited an Institute for American Values and the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy study published in mid-September called Marriage and the Law: A Statement of Principles. "Rather than focus on the needs of children," McManus wrote, "many courts are granting rights to adults to create diverse family forms such as cohabitation and same-sex marriages that are harmful to children."

According to McManus, the report affirmed some "great truths about marriage and the law."

*    1. "Marriage and family law is fundamentally oriented toward creating and protecting the next generation." While marriage also has a goal to meet adult needs for love and intimacy, its central role is to create children connected to and loved by their mother and father.

*    2. "Marriage is an irreplaceable social good" which prevents poverty, promotes the well-being of children and the equal dignity of men and women.

*    3. "High rates of divorce, unmarried childbearing, as well as violent or high conflict marriages, hurt children."

*    4. "A major goal of marriage and family law is...to strengthen marriage so that more children are raised by their own married mother and father."

Between 1991 (four years after it was founded "to contribut[e] intellectually to the renewal of marriage and family life and the sources of competence, character, and citizenship") and 2005, the New York City-based Institute for American Values has received more than 80 grants from conservative foundations that came to more than $4.1 million, according to MediaTransparency.org.

In a pre-election McManus column, he urged conservative evangelicals to get out and vote for the anti-gay anti-same-sex marriage amendments that were on the November ballot in eight states. "Will conservatives set aside the Iraq issue and the corruption of a few to support candidates in favor of traditional marriage?"

McManus asked. "If they don't mobilize - the Biblical idea of marriage will be trashed," he declared.

Around the same time as the USA Today revelations about McManus, the Washington Post pointed out that Maggie Gallagher, an affiliate scholar with the Institute for American Values and the president of the Manassas, Virginia-based the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, had been paid $21,500 in 2002 by HHS to conduct a briefing and write brochures and a Crisis-- a conservative Catholic publication -- article that promoted the Bush administration's then $300 million marriage initiative. In addition, Gallagher received another $20,000 in 2002 and 2003 to write a report ("Can Government Strengthen Marriage?") for the National Fatherhood Initiative.

In 1994, the National Fatherhood Initiative (originally called the National Organization of Fathers) was co-founded by Wade Horn, who, as assistant secretary for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Services, is a major player in the Bush Administration's marriage promotion program, and Don E. Eberly, who has been deputy director of the White House of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

The National Fatherhood Initiative's stated mission is to "improve the well-being of children by increasing the proportion of children growing up with involved, responsible, and committed fathers."
In a late January 2005 story for Salon.com, Eric Boehlert reported that Horn, who "has known McManus for years," was a founding member of McManus' Marriage Savers board.




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