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Government shouldn't fund Christian marriage center, lawsuit says

By The Associated Press

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 says.

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.


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