Justice Dept. cuts funds for youth programs after leader refuses to ban prayer

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A Louisiana sheriff is furious after the federal government cut funding for two programs that are aimed at helping troubled teens because he refused to quit praying at the meetings.

Bossier Parish Sheriff Julian Whittington said the Justice Department's Office of Civil Rights demanded he sign a statement pledging to ban prayer — or mention of God — during group meetings, Fox News reported. When he refused, the DOJ cut $30,000 from the coffers of the Young Marines, along with its youth diversion program.

The Young Marines typically opens its meetings with a student-led prayer, Sheriff Whittington said. And the group’s oath mentions God, Fox News reported.

“We were informed that these are unacceptable, inherently religious activities and the Department of Justice would not be able to fund the programs if it continued,” Sheriff Whittington said to Fox News. “They wanted a letter from me stating that I would no longer have voluntary prayer and I would also have to remove ‘God’ from the Young Marine’s oath.”

Sheriff Whittington also blasted the government’s response to the prayer as “aggression and infringement of our religious freedoms,” Fox News reported. He said the prayer has gone forth for 10 years — with no federal complaint.

An attorney for the Office of Civil Rights said in an email to DOJ obtained by Fox News that references to “love of God” were of particular concern.

The lawyer also raised issue with the Young Marines Creed, which called on members to “Keep myself clean in mind my attending the church of my faith.” The attorney also wrote that DOJ policies ban “funding on inherently religious activities, such as prayer, religious instruction and proselytization … and any religious activities must be kept separate in time or location from DOJ-funded activities,” Fox News reported.

Sheriff Whittington’s response to the warning was blunt.

“I flat said, ‘It’s not going to happen,’ ” he said, as Fox News reported. “Enough is enough. This is the United States of America — and the idea that the mere mention of God or voluntary prayer is prohibited is ridiculous.”

In a follow-up email after the article was published, a spokesman for the Office of Justice Programs at the Department of Justice said: “The Office of Justice Programs found the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office’s Youth Diversion Program compliant, and therefore eligible for the grant. Whether or not the program receives the grant funding is decided by Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement, the state administering agency for the OJP Juvenile Accountability Block Grant program.”

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