Off Course: Complaint Says N.C. Churches Used Taxpayer Money To Discriminate

This is yet another example of why it’s problematic to give taxpayer funds to religious organizations to operate social programs.

It seems some U.S. armed services veterans who recently returned from fighting the War on Terror are facing a new battle at home: federally funded gender discrimination. 

According to a complaint filed last week by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a cooperative of 300 churches in Asheville and Buncombe County, N.C., which provides services for the homeless as well as low-income veterans and families, has allegedly been offering very different job-training classes for male veterans than for female.

The Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry receives funding from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Veterans Workforce Investment Program and the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program, according to the SPLC. Recently the group was given $200,000 by the Department of Labor to assist homeless veterans through job training and other services.

But according to an SPLC complaint filed before the Department of Labor, veteran Emily Bagby alleged that women were only allowed to participate in courses that would give them the skills to be homemakers. While men were allowed to learn about truck driving, culinary arts and “green” jobs, women were forced to choose from offerings in knitting, art therapy, yoga, meditation, how to de-clutter a room and self-esteem boosting.  

Lost among the overwhelming gender bias alleged in the complaint was another issue: federal funds being used to promote religion. Bagby also alleged that women were offered Bible study classes; unfortunately her complaint does not say whether these classes were also available to men, nor does it offer any details on the courses.

While it is possible that a federally funded Bible study class could be taught in such a way that it would not raise constitutional concerns, it is highly doubtful that a group of churches would even attempt to structure the class in that way. If these charges are true, the co-op is using taxpayer funds not only to discriminate against women, but to indoctrinate them, too. 

Our veterans and the public deserve better than this. Federal officials should investigate this matter. If the allegations are deemed accurate, the church co-op should change its ways or lose its tax funding. If the co-op gives up the public support, then it will be free to proselytize all it wants.

This is yet another example of why it’s problematic to give taxpayer funds to religious organizations to operate social programs. Many of these groups can and do use the money appropriately, but we know that some are quick to take the cash and use it in ways that further their theological views.

Until there is better oversight and accountability of religious organizations that receive federal funding, however, stories like this will continue to pop up.