Groups sue over practice of religion-based job-training program

Posted: Friday, July 28, 2000

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Two civil rights groups have sued to recover state money given to a church-based job-training program and questioned state contracts that use religion-based programs to help people get off welfare.

The lawsuit filed Monday in Travis County district court by the American Jewish Congress and the Texas Civil Rights Project seeks to recoup state funds given to the Jobs Partnership of Washington County. The lawsuit said the program used state money to purchase Bibles and promoted evangelical Christianity.

An evaluation by state agency employees stated that biblical references were used to teach subjects such as attitude, integrity, and money, the lawsuit said.

''They teach that you can find a job through a relationship through Jesus Christ,'' said Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. ''That's a bit much.''

The lawsuit names the Texas Department of Human Services, commissioner Eric Bost and other state officials as defendants.

The jobs program in Brenham, about halfway between Austin and Houston, received $8,000 in state funds in 1999. It no longer receives any state money, said the Rev. George Nelson, who sits on the program's board of directors.

The lawsuit also challenges the constitutionality of the ''charitable choice'' contract -- which allows the state to give money to religious groups for job training and other services to former welfare recipients so long as secular alternatives are available.

Nelson supports such efforts. ''We are doing what we've been called to do and that's help those who are less fortunate,'' he said. ''Anybody who's against that, I would pray for them.''

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