Faith as medicine program dropped

Devon Sykes

The University has dropped its faith/health leadership program after a lawsuit from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group that promotes the separation of church and state.

The Madison, Wis., group sued the University in March to end the program and the University’s involvement in a Faith Health Consortium composed of the University’s Academic Health Center; University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview; and Luther Seminary. When the University complied with both demands, the lawsuit ended.

The University had planned a 12-credit program in faith/health leadership, meant to train students in integrating religious faith and medical practice. The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s lawsuit claimed the University’s involvement with religious groups and the proposed program were breaches of First Amendment rights.

After the lawsuit, the school left the consortium in July, but still planned to offer the program. However, on Sept. 2, University officials notified the foundation that they were halting the proposed course of study.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said the organization is “very pleased” with the outcome.

“This has national significance,” she said. “These courses were meant to create a national model. There was going to be a conference at the end to spread the program across the country.”

Gaylor said the foundation negotiated throughout the summer with the University.

Mark Rotenberg, the University’s general counsel, said the lawsuit involved “a single proposed 12-credit course that was being designed, but it had never been finalized or offered.”

Rotenberg said the program was only part of the school’s ongoing efforts to “study and explore ways to advance community-based health care delivery.

“Our decision to not offer the course is not an indication that we’re giving up our efforts to engage in wide-ranging academic research in faith-based care,” he said. “We may come up with another, different course in the future.”

Rotenberg said the Office of the General Counsel is “very vigilant to protect the separation between church and state.”

He said the Freedom From Religion Foundation can file lawsuits, but they’re not needed to assure that the Office of the General Counsel protects against First Amendment violations.

He said Office of the General Counsel staff regularly advises University officials about First Amendment issues.