Government tries to force Christian ministry servicing at-risk youth to remove its Christian character: suit

'It felt very much like a punch in the gut, said the executive director of the Christian youth-mentoring non-profit said

A Christian youth ministry group is experiencing financial woes causing "irreparable injury" after an Oregon government agency conditioned critical funding on whether it would hire people who do not conform to the nonprofit's deeply held religious beliefs, according to the allegations in court. 

The Oregon-based Christian ministry group – 71Five Ministries – is currently grappling with a large deficit in its annual budget after the state's education department allegedly stripped its funding due to its religious character, the lawsuit, originally filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom in March, alleged. The case wrapped up oral arguments last week and is awaiting a decision from a judge in the case. 

"It felt very much like a punch in the gut," Bud Amundsen, the executive director of the Christian youth-mentoring nonprofit, told Fox News Digital. 

"We were actually kind of one of their favorite programs," he added.


at-risk teen

A Christian ministry in Oregon services at-risk youth had its funding cut from the department of education over its religious character, according to a lawsuit.  (Fox News Digital)

71Five Ministries serves at-risk youth of all faiths and backgrounds, including those who are incarcerated and expectant and parenting teens. It had been granted funds for six years before it was abruptly denied over a "statement of faith" expected of its staff.

The ministry required all board members, employees, and volunteers "to be authentic followers of Christ." The ADF argued that as a religious organization, it has the legally protected right to prefer members of its own faith as employees and volunteers. The ADF based it on Supreme Court rulings, including one which said the government cannot interfere with a religious organization’s "selection of those who will personify its beliefs."


"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?" Amundsen said. 

Amundsen added he still doesn't know how he's going to fill the financial gap going into the next fiscal year.

"My hope and goal is to not reduce staff, which will reduce access for young people," he said. "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."

71Five Executive Director Bud Amundsen

71Five Executive Director Bud Amundsen  (71Five)

Amundsen said he is dipping into the nonprofit's reserves to ensure that his staffers aren't laid off and the local youth are not turned away due to lack of resources. 

"We're in the middle of [dealing with this] right now. 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," he said. "We've had to spend $187,000 in reserves to keep the programming at present."

"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," the lawsuit said. "This New Rule led to Defendants stripping 71Five Ministries of over $400,000 in grant awards just because the Christian ministry expects its employees and volunteers to share its religious beliefs and mission." 


Jeremiah Galus, senior counsel at the ADF, said, "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." 

"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."

Alliance Defending Freedom

Jeremiah Galus serves as senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is a key member of the Center for Christian Ministries. (Fox News Digital)

"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," Galus added. "We [at ADF] want to make sure that 71Five is not excluded from any future grant programs and that no other religious organization suffers the same religious discrimination and 71Five has." 

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