The first federal court ruling on a charitable choice case went against government funding of religion-based social service programs. But more court fights lie ahead.

On January 8, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled in the case of Freedom from Religion Foundation vs. McCallum. The judge said the state violated the separation of church and state when it appropriated more than $800,000 to Faith Works, a drug treatment program in Milwaukee. Crabb said the state had crossed the line by providing “unrestricted, direct funding of an organization that engages in religious indoctrination.”

Faith Works describes its program as “inherently Christian,” and “a holistic, faith-based approach to bring healing to mind, body, heart and soul.” Wisconsin established the program in 1999 as a demonstration project for government funding of religion-based social service agencies. Its first funds came from the office of former governor Tommy Thompson, now President Bush’s secretary of Health and Human Services. His successor, Scott McCallum, says the state will appeal.

George W. Bush visited Faith Works in July 2000 as a presidential candidate. He promised hundreds of millions of federal aid dollars for similar programs as part of his faith-based service initiative. But Congress has been slow to pass enabling legislation.

Crabb’s action was only one of “many, many such decisions” to come, says Annie Laurie Gaylor, cofounder of the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation. She expressed confidence that an appeals court will uphold the decision.

Other opponents of church-state aid were likewise jubilant. Americans United for Separation of Church and State hailed Crabb’s ruling as “a major blow” to the Bush plan. “This is a tremendous ...

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