U exits faith, health group

After being sued, the University is leaving the Minnesota Faith Health Consortium.

Jerret Raffety

The University withdrew from the Minnesota Faith Health Consortium this month after being sued by a Wisconsin-based group that promotes the separation of church and state.

The consortium is made up of Fairview Health Services, Luther Seminary and, until recently, the University’s Academic Health Center. Its mission is to combine spirituality and faith with health care to ensure people have access to both.

University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said the lawsuit was a factor in the decision to withdraw from the consortium, but it had also been determined the University could fulfill its educational and outreach goals without staying in the group.

“We want to listen respectfully to the plaintiff’s complaints and make the modifications where appropriate without compromising our teaching and outreach agenda and our educational mission,” Rotenberg said.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued the University in March, claiming the University violated the First Amendment by allowing the government to endorse religion by using state taxpayer funds to operate a faith-based organization.

Freedom From Religion Foundation officials said they will not drop the lawsuit, despite the withdrawal from the consortium. The organization said it will continue suing the University because officials have not stopped developing the Faith/Health Leadership program.

The program would be eligible for accreditation from the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, according to a release from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Rotenberg said the University is reviewing the proposed program and is conversing with the plaintiff’s lawyers. It is unknown if the program will be changed, removed or supplemented in any way at this point.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the foundation, said the lawsuit will continue because the foundation does not feel the University should engage in seminary training.

“We hope our lawsuit will nip this kind of entanglement in the bud and send a message around the country to public-funded universities not to engage in devotional, proselytizing programs,” Gaylor said. “Public university degrees should be academic, and courses should engage in critical examination of claims, not religious propaganda as this curriculum currently does.”

Reactions to the lawsuit on campus are mixed.

Jacob Larson, an executive board member with Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists, said he was against the University’s membership in the consortium and the program itself because he doesn’t want to support a program that will spread religion.

“Even if the program doesn’t directly fund spreading religion, it helps prepare someone to fill the position in which they will do that,” Larson said. “It would be equivalent of someone of faith not having a choice but to fund a program that discourages faith.”

Joanne Neumann, president of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship, said the University should either support all religious programs and groups on campus or no religious programs or groups.

“I can see and sympathize with the view that public money should not be going to a faith-based program, but that calls into question any of the ethnic, religious or academic student programs or groups who are receiving public funding,” Neumann said. “It makes sense that the University is no longer affiliated with the group, but until the University is no longer behind any religious or ethnic programs or groups, I just don’t think it’s fair to pull funding from this one specific program.”