Ministry sues for right to offer at-risk youths more than job training

Ministry sues for right to offer at-risk youths more than job training

Ministry sues for right to offer at-risk youths more than job training

A well-known Oregon ministry that helps at-risk youths will demand its First Amendment-protected rights in a federal court today after it was stripped of state grant funds for requiring a statement of faith.

Oral arguments are set for today in the United States District Court for the District of Oregon in the lawsuit Youth 71Five Ministries v Williams.

The youth-focused ministry, based in Medford, has served Oregon for a half-century at multiple facilities that help youths with mentoring, after-school activities and camps, and job training.

The ministry’s name comes from Psalm 71:5: “Lord God, You are my hope. I have trusted You since I was young.”

After the organization won, then lost, a two-year Youth Community Investment Grant, attorneys for Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit in March after 71Five was turned down because its employees and volunteers must sign a statement of faith. The ministry has applied for and received state funds in the past, including funds from a state Youth Violence and Gang Prevention program that praised the ministry.

ADF attorney Jeremiah Galus tells AFN what the State of Oregon views as discrimination has been repeatedly upheld as a religious-based First Amendment right by the nation’s highest court.  

“The Supreme Court has said numerous times now – three times in the past seven years – that state officials cannot exclude religious organizations from a generally available government program solely because they are religious based,” he says. “If they're going to open the program to secular organizations, they cannot exclude religious organizations in this way."

Galus, Jeremiah (ADF) Galus

Bud Amundsen, executive director of Youth71Five Ministries, tells AFN the ministry operates a vocational training program that is currently helping a 21-year-old who can’t read or write. The mission and vision of 71Five, he says, goes beyond helping a young man in a detention center get a job.  

“That's where we are doing our best: to share God's story of hope so that he has a lifetime of hope,” Amundsen says. “They've removed our right to make sure that our staff and volunteers can meet that young man's need."

Defendants named in the lawsuit are Charlene Williams, director of the Oregon Department of Education; Brian Detman, director of the youth development division; and Cord Bueker, Jr., deputy director of the youth development division.