As Keith Hamilton prepares for the August 29 start of Alaska Christian College's (ACC) next academic year, the president is waiting to see whether his school will lose a grant that represents 36 percent of its annual budget.
Founded five years ago by the Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska, the tiny college on the Kenai Peninsula faces a legal challenge to the constitutionality of nearly $1.2 million in federal grants it has received the past two years.
Hamilton argues that the Soldotna school helps disadvantaged students make the transition to four-year universities. "The majority of our students come with severe baggage or issues," he said. "We offer them their own heart and the ability to move on."
Thirty-four of ACC's 37 students last year were Native Americans.
In late April, the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed suit against the U.S. Department of Education, which has been providing the grants. The foundation says tax money to ACC gives the appearance of government support for the college's Christian curriculum.
While FFRF can't do anything about the $400,000 awarded last year and the $350,000 given to an adjacent counseling center, foundation co-president Dan Barker hopes to void the latest $435,000 grant and similar aid in the future.
About 19 percent of Alaska's approximately 640,000 people are identified as Native American, the highest percentage in the nation. An estimated 25 percent of them live in poverty.
Barker said, "Our lawsuit is questioning whether this problem should be addressed primarily through sectarian means."
The school used its first grant for five faculty salaries ($250,000), scholarships ($75,000), and recruitment ($75,000).
The state's three-member congressional delegation visited the school and was impressed with its efforts to help at-risk youth. Republican Senator Ted Stevens helped secure funds for the counseling center.
Courtney Boone, press secretary for Stevens, told CT, "Religious institutions have played an extraordinarily large role in providing this kind of service in Alaska."
John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, said groups such as FFRF are always seeking precedents to deny public funding of religion. He said these disputes will likely wind up in the Supreme Court.
Of the 90 students who have attended ACC, Hamilton estimates 20 percent have gone to four-year colleges, with others still in junior college, the military, or elsewhere.
"Our position is we went through proper procedures to ask for funds for our school," ACC president Hamilton said. "And now people are trying to take it away from us."
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Alaska Christian College has more information about its campus and academic life, but none about losing its grant.
News elsewhere includes:
Aid to Christian school in Alaska spurs lawsuit | There are those who complain that Congress does not care about the concerns of the little guy. But those people do not attend Alaska Christian College. Over the past two years, Congress has given the school more than $1 million. (Washington Post, May 9, 2005)
Wisconsin group files lawsuit over Christian college funding | A Wisconsin group advocating for the separation of church and state filed a lawsuit against the federal Department of Education over taxpayer money going to Alaska Christian College. (Associated Press, Apr. 26, 2005)
Bible college grants draw a challenge | Foundation sues to keep school from getting $1 million. (Anchorage Daily News, April 27th, 2005)
Atheists sue education department over funding of Christian college | An atheist group has filed suit against the U.S. Department of Education, charging that the $1 million given to an Alaska college with just 37 students is unconstitutional. (Religion News Service, undated)
Public aid to new Alaska Christian College goes too far | Alaska's congressional delegation has ladled an astonishing amount of public money on a tiny, brand-new religious school in Alaska. The more than $1 million of aid handed to Alaska Christian College is an unwise and inappropriate investment of public funds in a pervasively religious institution. (Anchorage Daily News, reprinted Juneau Empire, December 28, 2004)
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