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Youth ministry sues OR officials for stripping funding because of its faith

ADF attorneys represent 71Five Ministries in federal lawsuit after state officials reverse approval of grant funding for at-risk youth programs
Youth 71Five Ministries Arthur R. Dubs Community Center

MEDFORD, Ore. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Monday against Oregon state officials on behalf of a youth ministry that was denied access to state grant funding because it asks employees and volunteers to sign a statement of faith. 71Five Ministries is asking the court to protect its freedom to work with like-minded individuals who share and live out its religious beliefs and mission to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ through its various youth mentorship programs.

71Five Ministries serves young people in Oregon 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.” While the ministry serves all people, it achieves its goal through employees and volunteers who share its mission and beliefs, as outlined by its statement of faith. 71Five Ministries has previously applied for—and been granted—funds from Oregon’s biennial Youth Community Investment Grants program. When it applied for 2023-2025 funding, the ministry was first approved and then denied funding due to a new rule that requires that applicants “do not discriminate” based on religion “in [their] employment practices.”

“All religious institutions in America are constitutionally protected to hire staff and work with volunteers who share their beliefs, and 71Five Ministries is no different,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus. “The state of Oregon is forcing 71Five and other religious ministries to choose between forfeiting their constitutionally guaranteed religious freedoms and participating in an otherwise available government program. By stripping 71Five of its funding, the state is sending a message that politics takes priority over providing young people with hope for a bright future. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled multiple times that the First Amendment protects the freedom of faith-based organizations to hire like-minded individuals and that they cannot be forced to give up their religion to participate in generally available state programs.”

71Five Ministries previously applied for and was granted funding from Oregon’s program during the past three grant cycles, covering 2017 to 2023. In 2021, it had the top-rated application for the Youth Violence and Gang Prevention program. When applying for the 2023-2025 grant cycle, the ministry had to check a box on the electronic application that had not been present in previous years stating it did not discriminate in its hiring practices. The state originally accepted the application, and 71Five Ministries was set to receive more than $400,000 in grant funding. But three months later in October, a Department of Education official contacted the ministry’s executive director and informed him they had been disqualified because of the statement of faith that employees and volunteers sign.

The ministry replied that its hiring practices were legally protected, but state officials took several months to respond, confirming that they had been denied funding. The complaint filed by ADF attorneys notes that Oregon officials acknowledged at a quarterly meeting that it was rare for the department to rescind an award, and that the state maintains discretion to waive grant program rules and requirements for other reasons.

71Five Ministries derives its name from Psalm 71:5, which says, “Lord God, you are my hope. I have trusted you since I was young.” The ministry has served the Rogue Valley community for 60 years and includes multiple facilities aimed at providing mentorship and safe places for young people to grow as individuals and avoid destructive lifestyles.

ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit Youth 71Five Ministries v. Williams in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, Medford Division.

  • Pronunciation guide: Galus (GAL’-us)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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Jeremiah Galus
Jeremiah Galus
Senior Counsel
Jeremiah Galus serves as senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is a key member of the Center for Christian Ministries.