- Associated Press - Thursday, December 18, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A leading civil rights organization is objecting to a religious requirement attached to $10 million in new Ohio educational mentorship grants.

In a letter Wednesday to Gov. John Kasich and Superintendent Richard Ross, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio said mandating that all Community Connectors proposals include a church or faith-based organization “raises serious questions about the constitutionality of the mentoring program.”

ACLU Foundation of Ohio Legal Director Freda Levenson and two others cite separation of church and state provisions of the First Amendment.

“Improving education outcomes within our local communities is an important and worthy goal,” they wrote. “But it is one that may not be achieved via unconstitutional means.”

Community Connectors is a key education initiative of Kasich’s. The Republican governor announced the program during his 2014 State of the State speech. Its aim is to provide students with adult role models from their communities.

“There is little doubt that an adult’s presence in a child’s education brings greater success in the classroom,” Ross said as the application window opened Dec. 1.

Ross developed the grant application in tandem with Kasich’s office and a panel of advisers. At issue is a section that says lead applicants that are not religiously affiliated, “a faith-based organization or house of worship must be included as a partner.”

John Charlton, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, noted that program guidelines prohibit grant money from being used to pay salaries or other compensation at a faith-based organization. Funds also may not be used for “religious worship, instruction or proselytization.”

The ACLU letter asks that the state immediately reconsider the religious requirement for grants, and requests public records on the program that will be part of further inquiry by the group.

In response to the ACLU’s letter, Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said, “We never comment on pending or threatened litigation.”

The department has held regional information sessions and a webcast to explain the program. Applications are being accepted through Feb. 20.

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Online: https://communityconnectors.ohio.gov/


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