Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Washington Bishop Seeks to Block Aid to Homeless


[The Living Church] 23 Sep 2008--Bishop John B. Chane of Washington has joined with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State in filing a federal lawsuit that challenges the District of Columbia’s plan to provide a grant to a homeless shelter.

The plaintiffs claim that the Central Union Mission requires homeless persons seeking to use their services to participate in Christian religious activity, including mandatory attendance at nightly church services. The mission, they say, only employs Christians and also requires volunteers to declare their church affiliation. The plaintiffs contend that grant of cash and property in exchange for a less valuable piece of property will result in an unconstitutional $12 million preferential treatment of one religion.

“The Central Union Mission has a constitutional right to preach the gospel and recruit disciples for its faith, as it’s been doing for 124 years,” said Arthur B. Spitzer, legal director of the ACLU of the National Capital Area. “But it is a constitutional violation for the District of Columbia to support that preaching with millions of dollars of public money and public property.”

David O. Treadwell, executive director of Central Union Mission, said the proposed mission grant is a legitimate faith-based initiative and that its policy is to provide meals and shelter without consideration of religion or participation or the participation in religious activities.

“It is a travesty that this lawsuit will merely impede the supply of urgently needed food, shelter and medical services to our friends and neighbors who desperately need it,” Mr. Tradwell said. “This suit not only has the potential of delaying these services, but also increasing the cost with unnecessary litigation.”

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