USDOJ: Two agencies not in compliance with fed regs
Two local faith-based organizations that are sub-grants recipients of U.S. Department of Justice funds “are not in substantial compliance” with federal requirements when it comes to the use of those grants, according to a USDOJ letter.
The USDOJ awards funding under several grants programs to the local Criminal Justice Planning Agency (CJPA). Last May the USDOJ’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) conducted a site visit of CJPA to determine among other things, its compliance with applicable civil rights law.
In particular, OCR wanted to know CJPA’s compliance with the 2004, Equal Treatment for Faith-Based Organizations, also known as the Equal Treatment Regulations or 'Regulations', which advises states and territories — or the state administering agencies (SAA) — not to discriminate either in favor of or against faith-based organizations.
The Regulations also instruct funded faith-based organizations not to discriminate in the delivery of services or benefits based on religion — or to use federal funds for inherently religious activities.
However, a 20-page letter-report from OCR in January this year to then CJPA director Taufete’e John Faumuina Jr., revealed the federal agency’s concerns.
According to the report, CJPA received in FY 2012 applications from faith-based groups, Catholic Social Services, for VAWA STOP funds, and faith-based organization Teen Challenge for Title II funds. Catholic Social Services received $40,000, while Teen Challenge received $15,000.
In administering its USDOJ program funds, the CJPA does not monitor whether its faith-based subgrantees provide services consistent with the Equal Treatment Regulations, and, in fact, Catholic Social Services and Teen Challenge “are not in substantial compliance with the requirements of the Regulations,” the report says.
During its compliance review, the OCR conducted onsite visits to Catholic Social Services and Teen Challenge. Based on these site visits, which included interviews with sub-recipient leadership and program staff representatives, and its review of pertinent program materials, “the OCR concludes that neither federally funded program complies with the DOJ’s Equal Treatment Regulations” because:
• both programs use federal resources for inherently religious purposes; and
• Teen Challenge discriminates against prospective and current program participants based on religion.
A footnote in the report states that, because Catholic Social Services and Teen Challenge receive VAWA STOP and JJDPA funds, respectively, they are also subject to provisions of the federal Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, or sex in pertinent federally funded programs or activities.
“In addition to breaching the requirements of the Equal Treatment Regulations, Teen Challenge violates the prohibition against religious-based discrimination contained in the Safe Streets Act, the footnote states.
OCR had a lot to say about Teen Challenge and its non-compliance, taking up almost five pages of the report, which contains only two and half pages of concerns over Catholic Social Services.
The report outlines programs and services administered by Teen Challenge catering to individuals who range in age from six to thirty-five, although most of its beneficiaries are youth, with some as young as six years old.
In particular, OCR said that that even if they concluded that Teen Challenge appropriately separated its religious activities from other, permissible activities funded by the USDOJ, “we have strong reservations about whether participation in the organization’s inherently religious activities is voluntary.”
“As an initial matter, we note that the subrecipient primarily provides its services to youths and young adults, which automatically raises heightened concerns about whether such persons have the ability to make truly voluntary decisions about participating in certain religious activities,” said OCR.
“In administering its federally funded programs and services, Teen Challenge is encouraging children as young as six years old to engage in religious activities like prayer and religious instruction.
“When a participant in a federally funded program is so young, a subrecipient should be especially careful to ensure that it does not improperly subject them to inherently religious activities,” said OCR. “Unfortunately, Teen Challenge does not appear to share this concern regarding the unique vulnerabilities of these individuals.”
OCR said to support its activities, Teen Challenge used its Title II funds to purchase:
• a laptop computer (Laptop No. 1), which the subrecipient uses to complete administrative tasks;
• another laptop computer (Laptop No. 2), which the subrecipient uses in connection with its class sessions and public outreach activities;
• a keyboard, which the subrecipient uses in connection with its musical instruction and public outreach activities, and
• chairs and tables, which the subrecipient uses in connection with its client counseling, class sessions, and public outreach activities.
The organization allocated the entire cost of this equipment to the Title II program.
According to the report, “Teen Challenge is not in substantial compliance with the Equal Treatment Regulations because it directly uses DOJ-funded items to foster its sectarian objectives and provides insufficient evidence to the OCR that participation in such religious activities is voluntary.”
Additionally, Teen Challenge “appears to engage in... inherently religious activities, as contemplated by the Equal Treatment Regulations: prayer, religious instruction, and evangelism.”
“Because Teen Challenge receives federal funds directly through the Title II grant award process, and not indirectly from beneficiaries, it must refrain from using federal financial assistance for inherently religious activities,” according to a footnote in the report.
OCR points to Teen Challenge using the equipment purchased with USDOJ funds to engage in at least one inherently religious activity, in clear contravention of the Regulations:
• Laptop No.1: Teen Challenge used this computer to print its program brochure, which, as noted above, includes extensive content that can be characterized as evangelism.
• Laptop No. 2: The subrecipient uses this computer to coordinate its classes, several of which involve prayer and religious instruction, and in connection with its public outreach and recruitment efforts, which involve activities that constitute evangelism.
• Keyboard: Teen Challenge uses this keyboard during its public musical performances to play songs that have religious themes. As with several of the subrecipient’s other outreach activities, this conduct constitutes evangelism.
OCR also points to a Teen Challenge brochure, which describes its federally funded programs and services, and the subrecipient repeatedly emphasizes the religious nature of its program.
Among the examples of the “religious nature of its programs” said the OCR report, the brochure states “Teen Challenge’s purpose is to enable students to ‘function as a Christian in society,’ which it accomplished by ‘applying Biblical principles’ to a client’s relationships, including those in the local church.”
The brochure, in addition, describes several of the services it provides, including classes on “Biblical Foundations for Problem Solving,” “Finding Solutions – A Christian Approach,” “Christian Principles of Problem Solving,” and “Sexuality in God’s Design,” said OCR.
OCR says Teen Challenge also conducts public outreach activities that contain religious content and each month, participants travel to a local market and provide a musical performance for members of the public. As part of these outreach efforts, program participants play musical instruments and sing songs that, in many instances, have Christian themes, as evidenced by their references to God in their titles or lyrics.
Following its site visit, OCR said it found that “Teen Challenge fails to offer its religious programming in a way that satisfies the separate-in-time-or-place requirement of the Equal Treatment Regulations.”
“Indeed, in providing services to youths, the subrecipient neither acknowledges the applicability of the Regulations nor endeavors to ensure that it appropriately separates sectarian activities from secular services,” said OCR.
In tomorrow’s edition, more findings on Teen Challenge and findings on Catholic Social Services.