- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2012

If you run the risk of arrest for drug possession, make sure you “don’t keep all of your stash on you.”

Don’t want to get caught having sex in your car? “Make sure you have tinted windows.” And if you run the risk of being charged with prostitution, at least be sure to wear “sensible shoes.”

Advice such as this has made a District-based nonprofit the target of outrage from a coalition of 24 Catholic organizations.

In an unusual press release, the coalition, called Reform CCHD Now, on Thursday asked Empower D.C. to return a $50,000 grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) for engaging “in the promotion of abortion, prostitution and homosexuality contrary to grant requirements.”

Specifically, the coalition says the Empower D.C. blog, called Grassroots D.C., provided a link to a pamphlet titled “Hey Grrl!” The pamphlet, which emphasizes young women’s rights when they come into contact with police, was not created by Empower D.C. and can no longer be found on its website.

“It was taken down because we had not developed a policy about what is cross-posted,” Empower D.C.’s executive director, Parisa Norouzi, said.

She said her group will now only provide links to groups with which it is actively engaged.

Empower D.C. emphasizes self-advocacy among low-income and moderate-income residents to enhance their quality of life. Current links on the group’s website pertain to environmental issues, child care and affordable housing.

Ms. Norouzi said she stands by her organization’s advocacy, and “it’s a huge stretch what this group is saying.” She said the CCHD itself has not asked for the money back because Empower D.C. has not violated the terms of the grant for general support.

She said the accusations from the Catholic coalition are part of a nationwide trend among groups who want to interfere with grants that are awarded to organizations founded on principles that differ from their own, “and we’re the one example in D.C. that they’re going after.”

The Catholic group, meanwhile, touts itself online as the top watchdog when it comes to monitoring groups that receive money from the CCHD.

“Since 2009,” its website said, “we have been working to shine the light on the problem of Catholic funds going to organizations that promote abortion, birth control, homosexuality and even Marxism.”

According to watchdog data, 27 of the CCHD’s 192 grantees “are directly involved in activities contrary to Church teaching.” It also says 45 grantees are “actively involved” in coalitions that violate the church’s teachings.

On Thursday, the watchdog group said the “Hey Grrl!” pamphlet goes too far, serving as a guide to “how to get away with certain crimes, such as being in possession of illegal drugs, having sex in a car and prostituting yourself.” The group refers to website screen shots from the Oct. 19 blog post and a copy of the booklet in stating its case, noting Empower D.C. “scrubbed its website, removing the incriminating links.”

“According to the CCHD’s grant guidelines, applicants must agree that they do not participate in or promote activities that contradict the moral and social teachings of the Catholic Church,” watchdog group spokesman Michael Hichborn, said in a news release. “Empower D.C. knowingly violated that agreement and lied about its activities.”

In its breakdown of the “Hey Grrl!” pamphlet, the Catholic watchdog group highlights objectionable material in a “do” and “don’t” chart that gives advice for “Staying Safer With Common Charges,” such as trespassing, truancy and solicitation. The pamphlet can be read in divergent ways – as a realistic guide for at-risk youth, or as a cheat-sheet for skirting the law.

A website screen shot posted by the Catholic group indicates that a separate group, known as Different Avenues, devised the pamphlet, yet the Empower D.C. blog says site visitors should “feel free to download and distribute it at will.”

According to its website, Different Avenues is a New York-based organization that “strives to protect the health, rights and safety of girls and women of color who engage in alternative economies and activities and are affected by systemic and interpersonal violence and health disparities.”

Empower D.C.’s Ms. Nourozi said that organization deals with “harm-reduction strategies” among people who engage in certain behaviors as a means of surviving.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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