Sep 19, 2011
Date Resolved

AU learned that the Tennessee legislature was considering legislation to establish a Community Enhancement Grant Program, under which individual legislators could earmark surplus budget funds for religious organizations, including churches. AU wrote a letter to the Tennessee Attorney General — whom the legislature had asked to issue an opinion regarding the constitutionality of the proposed earmark program — explaining that the government is prohibited from giving direct cash aid to pervasively religious organizations. The letter also explained that the program could be modified to create a fund open to religious and non-religious organizations alike, and that, if such an option were pursued, the program would need to include safeguards to ensure that government funding is not used for sectarian purposes. After receiving AU’s letter, the state legislature passed an alternate version of the program, establishing a $20 million general-grant fund instead of the earmark scheme. AU then sent a follow-up letter to the Tennessee Secretary of State, who is responsible for administering the general-grant program, urging him to ensure that the grant application and agreement include the constitutionally required safeguards. The Secretary subsequently took AU’s advice and amended the grant application and agreement to include the required safeguards.