Colson Affiliate Loses Faith-Based Funding

The AP reports that a “faith-based” charity mentoring prisoners’ children must go without government funding after a judge ruled it was promoting religion:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services cut off funds to MentorKids USA in December after evidence showed the group used public money to directly support activities such as worship or religious instruction.

U.S. District Judge John Shabaz’s ruling Tuesday prohibits the agency from funding MentorKids in the future.

MentorKids USA, based in Phoenix, received a three-year grant in 2003 to mentor the children of prisoners. The program hired only Christians to work as mentors and required them to adhere to a Christian statement of faith and code of conduct.

Mentors were also encouraged to share their faith with the children they worked with, introduce them to Scripture and provide monthly reports on whether the kids had discussed God, participated in Bible study or attended church.

The Wisconsin State Journal gives a more specific account:

In an 11-page ruling issued Tuesday, Shabaz cited materials that MentorKids USA gave its volunteers, including the pledge that mentors must sign stating that the Bible is “without error.” They also received a fact sheet instructing them to “introduce children to the gospel of Jesus Christ” and file monthly reports on how their charges are “progressing in their relationship with God.”

The finding was disputed by Daryl Reese, MentorKids’ executive director. However, one only has to look at MentorKid’s website to see an evangelistic purpose. Under “Our Objectives” we read:

—we provide every opportunity for kids to know Jesus Christ as Savior and to develop a disciplined walk with God.

MinistryWatch gives some background on the organisation:

MentorKids USA, formerly known as MatchPoint of Arizona, is an independently incorporated affiliate ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM)…Creation of MatchPoint materials was overseen by Dave Van Patten at Dare Mighty Things, a consultant in the field of high risk youth and a former National Director of PFM, and in conjunction with several other consultants including Dr. Karen Strong from PFM.

Prison Fellowship Ministries is, of course, Charles Colson‘s outfit. Dare Mighty Things has been around for a while, and is a big player in faith-based largesse. According to its website, one of its projects is:

Compassion Capital Fund, part of President George W. Bush’s faith-based initiative to increase the scale and effectiveness of faith-based and community organizations. DMT was selected to run the National Resource Center, a provider of training and information to equip the intermediary organizations funded under the Compassion Capital Fund. (View Press Release)

The Fund is part of the US Department of Health & Human Services – the same department which, according to the AP, is “reviewing whether it can resume the grant should MentorKids USA show it can separate its religious and secular work.” But back to the MinistryWatch profile of MentorKids:

…Phoenix MatchPoint arose out of the inspiration of Orv Krieger (a retired owner of a hotel broking company) and from the encouragement of Chuck Colson at Prison Fellowship. After organizing the ministry, registering it as a tax exempt public charity with the IRS, and setting up the board, Orv recruited Bill Brittain to serve as the Executive Director. Bill had previously been a children & family therapist and youth pastor in Phoenix, and had served as a Juvenile Probation Officer in Fort Worth, TX. Bill brings with him a desire to empower Christians to make a difference in the lives of hurting children.

In their assessment (which seems a bit out of date):

With the addition of fiscal year 2000 financial data, the ministry’s overall rating improves from 2 to 3 stars [out of 5]. A lower fundraising cost ratio and the allocation of more resources to programs compared to the year before contribute positively to the ministry’s rating, while large surpluses lead to below average performance in the asset utilization area. Based on 1999 financial data, the ministry scored 2 out of 5 stars in its MinistryWatch financial efficiency rating. Performance was affected by relatively high fundraising costs and a relatively low allocation of resources to programs. Despite its below average overall rating, Phoenix MatchPoint did better, relatively speaking, compared to its peers in the Community Development sector, ranking 8 out of 17 in overall financial efficiency, 10 out of 17 in fund acquisition, 8 out of 17 in the resource allocation, and 8 out of 17 in asset utilization.

The chairman is Jerry Wilger, who is also program manager at the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, another Colson outreach. (IFI has been discussed positively by WorldNetDaily, and critiqued by Slate).

The AP report includes a quote from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, but does not make clear that the FFRF was responsible for bringing the court case. Another complaint by the FFRF, concerning Emory University, was rejected.

UPDATE: Commentator Deana adds:

A friend of mine had volunteered to work with MentorKids, but he was asked to sign a doctrinal statement that he considered un-Catholic. Specifically, he had to endorse creationism.

Thanks for that, Deana. The claim was also made on the O’Reilly Factor back in December:

HEADLINE: Follow-Up: Interview With Freedom From Religion Foundation Co- President Annie Laurie Gaylor, Alliance Defense Fund Senior Legal Counsel Kevin Theriot…

GAYLOR: MentorKids is not only Christian. It excludes Catholics. It excludes anybody who does not believe in creationism. Mentors…

THERIOT: That’s not true.

GAYLOR: …are given a statement. That is true. Mentors are given a statement that they must believe that the Bible is literally true and inerrant and that the creation story is inerrant. And we got an e-mail yesterday from somebody in Mesa who was recruited through a Catholic Church to join MentorKids, and he could not in good conscience sign up because he said even the pope recognizes evolution. He felt unwelcome. It’s…

O’REILLY: All right. Well, let the counselor answer that.

GAYLOR: …Chuck Colson’s brand of fundamentalism.

O’REILLY: Now is that — is that true that the — you have to recognize creationism to be a mentor in this group?

THERIOT: Well, what’s true is that they provide mentoring to kids no matter what their denomination is and it’s also true…

Felafel then cuts back in and the topic of Creationism is not discussed again (although those wanting O’Reilly’s own deep thoughts on the subject should go here.)