TACOMA, Wash. — Thirteen residents of Western Washington have sued the
federal government and a Vancouver-based marriage counseling center, saying it
has used federal money to promote a fundamentalist Christian agenda.
The Northwest Marriage Institute received $97,750 last year from the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services under the Bush administration’s
initiatives to support faith-based organizations, according to the
lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court here yesterday. The organization used
the money to promote its Bible-based marriage counseling, in violation of the
separation of church and state called for by the First Amendment, the lawsuit
The plaintiffs, represented by Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for
Separation of Church and State, said in the lawsuit they were offended by
federal tax money being used to support the organization.
“This program trains people in how to make their marriages conform to one
narrow interpretation of faith,” the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of
Americans United, said in a news release. “The federal government has no
business forcing the taxpayer to subsidize that.”
Bob Whiddon Jr., the Marriage Institute’s director, said yesterday he had not
seen the lawsuit and could not comment, but said his organization has followed
rules for spending the grant money.
The Marriage Institute notes on its Web site that its services are available
to people of all faiths.
The lawsuit, which names HHS Secretary Michael O. Leavitt as a defendant,
asks for the return of the grant money, plus interest, as well as an injunction
prohibiting further federal funding for the Marriage Institute.