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Christian Youth Ministry Denied State Grants Because It Only Hires Christians

Oregon officials excluded Youth 71Five Ministries from a public grant program because of the ministry’s religious beliefs.
Alliance Defending Freedom
Youth 71Five Ministries Arthur R. Dubs Community Center

Psalm 71:5 says, “LORD God, you are my hope. I have trusted you since I was young.” (ICB). It is this verse that inspires the name and mission of Youth 71Five Ministries.

Since 1964, 71Five has been serving children in the Rogue Valley of Oregon and encouraging them to place their hope in the Lord. Formerly known as Rogue Valley Youth For Christ, the ministry changed its name in 2018 to reflect Psalm 71:5. Its logo even includes the number “71” in the shape of an arrow pointing up to God.

Through its programs serving K-12 students, inner-city youth, minors who are incarcerated or embroiled in gang violence, and others, 71Five changes lives and betters the Rogue Valley community.

Spreading the Gospel throughout Oregon’s Rogue Valley

Consistent with Psalm 71:5, Youth 71Five Ministries believes that the best source of hope for young people is a relationship with Jesus Christ. The ministry’s primary purpose is “to teach and share about the life of Jesus Christ” so that the young people it serves “might have an opportunity of having a personal relationship” with Him.

71Five has a variety of programs aimed at helping young people and spreading the Gospel throughout the Rogue Valley.

Since creating authentic, trusting relationships is a key part of 71Five’s outreach to young people, it is imperative for the ministry to hire only those who hold to its Christian beliefs. All its board members, employees, and volunteers agree to a statement of faith that affirms basic Christian beliefs including the infallible nature of Scripture, the Godhead in Trinity, and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

Oregon’s grant program for youth outreach

The Oregon Department of Education provides grants every two years to organizations that serve youth ages 6 to 24 who are at risk of disengaging from school, work, and community. The grant program has a variety of initiatives, and each is aimed at raising up youth in the state. Through the program, 71Five received grants in the 2017-19, 2019-21, and 2021-23 grant cycles to help further the positive work it was doing in children’s lives.

For the 2023-25 grant cycle, 71Five again applied for grants.

In July 2023, the Oregon Department of Education informed 71Five that it had been selected to receive two grants. But that all changed about three months later.

Youth 71Five Ministries punished for religious beliefs

During the 2023-25 grant cycle, organizations were asked for the first time to check a box certifying that they “do not discriminate in [their] employment practices, vendor selection, subcontracting, or service delivery with regard to … religion.”

71Five checked the box because it does not discriminate in any way in its vendor selection, subcontracting, or service delivery. Regarding employment, it simply hires people who share its religious beliefs to carry out its mission, as it is free to do under the First Amendment.

So the ministry was understandably shocked when it received an email from an Oregon official in October 2023 saying that the grants had been rescinded. The official said that by requiring its employees and volunteers to sign a statement of faith and confirm church attendance, Youth 71Five Ministries was violating the “discrimination” policy.

In reality, it is the state of Oregon that is discriminating against 71Five. The First Amendment ensures that organizations cannot be excluded from benefits available to the public simply because they are religious. In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer (another ADF case), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such religious discrimination is “odious to our Constitution.”

Religious organizations are free to live out their religion without being punished by the government, and that includes the freedom to hire people and engage volunteers who hold to their core beliefs.

71Five tried to explain to Oregon officials that it was simply exercising its religious freedom, but the officials refused to change their minds and kicked the ministry out of the the grant program. So, in March 2024, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a lawsuit to protect the ministry’s religious freedom.

Youth 71Five Ministries v. Williams

  • October 2023: Oregon officials rescinded their grant offers to 71Five because it asks employees and volunteers to sign a statement of faith. Even after the ministry informed them of its First Amendment rights, they refused to change their decision.
  • March 2024: ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit challenging Oregon officials’ religious discrimination of 71Five.