Youth Ministry Challenges Rejection of State Grants

Youth Ministry Challenges Rejection of State Grants

An Oregon youth ministry is appealing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit after a lower court dismissed their case against state officials in late June.

Youth 71Five Ministries, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), is challenging state officials who stripped the ministry of previously approved funds simply because it asks employees and volunteers to sign a statement of faith.

The ministry, which works with at-risk youth, received funds for several years from Oregon’s biennial Youth Community Investment Grants program. When it applied for the 2023-2025 grant cycle, the ministry was first approved but then denied funding due to a new rule that requires that applicants “do not discriminate” based on religion “in [their] employment practices.”

“Oregon state officials are punishing [71Five] because it’s a Christian ministry that simply and reasonably asks volunteers and staff to agree to Christian beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus. “By stripping 71Five of its funding, Oregon is putting religious ministries to an impossible choice: hire those who reject your beliefs to receive funding that everyone else can access or go without the funding. We will be urging the 9th Circuit to follow U.S. Supreme Court precedent that upholds the First Amendment freedom of faith-based organizations to hire like-minded individuals.”

The ministry’s name comes from Psalm 71:5, “Lord God, you are my hope. I have trusted you since I was young.” According to ADF, 71Five Ministries welcomes everyone to participate in its programs, and it serves young people of all faiths and backgrounds, including at-risk youth, young people in detention centers and correctional facilities, and expectant and parenting teens. The ministry’s mission statement says it “exists to share God’s Story of Hope with young people through trusting relationships in any relevant way.”

The ministry’s website explains further: “These relationships are the foundation for guiding young people according to the teachings of Jesus Christ—helping them to develop the mental, physical, social and spiritual components of their lives.”

In achieving its goals, the ministry relies on employees and volunteers who share its mission and beliefs, as outlined by its statement of faith.

During the state’s 2023-2025 grant cycle, officials at first accepted several grant applications totaling more than $400,000 from the ministry. But three months later, a state official contacted the ministry’s executive director and told him the ministry had been disqualified because of the statement of faith that employees and volunteers sign.

The ministry filed suit in March, but a U.S. District Court judge dismissed the case, saying that the state’s nondiscrimination rule is “neutral and generally applicable and does not turn on [the ministry’s] religious exercise.”

But in a court document filed in May, the ministry pointed out that state officials “went out of their way to scrutinize the statements on 71Five’s website, Resp. 6, while giving the benefit of the doubt—and over $1.5 million—to secular organizations whose discrimination was on full display in their websites and organizational names.”

Photo: Alliance Defending Freedom

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