All too often, governments shirk their constitutional responsibility to guard against taxpayer-funded proselytization. It was therefore a welcome development in late 2003 when the State of Michigan, on its own initiative, stopped financing and sending kids to Teen Ranch, a residential youth services program that had been indoctrinating children on the taxpayers’ dime. Rather than trying to fix the problem, Teen Ranch sued the State, claiming a right to provide government-subsidized religious programming to youth. Last week, a federal appellate court summarily rejected Teen Ranch’s lawsuit.
As the ACLU noted in a brief filed in the case, Michigan severed its ties with Teen Ranch not because of the group’s religious character, purpose or views, but because Teen Ranch was the only one of nearly 100 private child care agencies contracting with the state — at least 35 of which were faith-based — that incorporated its religious beliefs and teachings into its State-funded services. Teen Ranch never denied that taxpayer dollars were being used to indoctrinate youth sent there by the State. Nor did Teen Ranch ever try to separate, monitor, or track government funds to ensure that they weren’t used for expressly religious activity, as required by the Constitution and the applicable regulations. Instead, Teen Ranch simply brushed aside those concerns and argued that the First Amendment not only permits, but actually requires the State to refer children to Teen Ranch’s sectarian program to to fund the minors’ indoctrination. The courts rightly rejected that claim and confirmed that when faith-based organizations accept government funds, they must play by the rules.