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OR youth ministry asks 9th Circuit to uphold its freedom to hire people who share its faith

ADF attorneys represent Youth 71Five Ministries

Tuesday, Jul 2, 2024

MEDFORD, Ore. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing an Oregon youth ministry filed a notice of appeal Monday to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit after a lower court dismissed the case. Youth 71Five Ministries, which serves at-risk youth, is challenging state officials who stripped the ministry of previously approved funds simply because it asks employees and volunteers to sign a statement of faith. ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit in March.

From 2017 to 2023, 71Five Ministries applied for—and was granted—funds from Oregon’s biennial Youth Community Investment Grants program. When it applied for the next cycle, the ministry was first approved and then denied funding due to a new rule that requires that applicants “do not discriminate” based on religion “in [their] employment practices.”

“71Five provides vital support and care to anyone who needs it, but Oregon state officials are punishing it because it’s a Christian ministry that simply and reasonably asks volunteers and staff to agree to Christian beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus. “By stripping 71Five of its funding, Oregon is putting religious ministries to an impossible choice: hire those who reject your beliefs to receive funding that everyone else can access or go without the funding. We will be urging the 9th Circuit to follow U.S. Supreme Court precedent that upholds the First Amendment freedom of faith-based organizations to hire like-minded individuals.”

71Five Ministries welcomes everyone to participate in its programs, and it serves young people in Oregon of all faiths and backgrounds, including at-risk youth, young people in detention centers and correctional facilities, and expectant and parenting teens. The ministry’s mission statement says it “exists to share God’s Story of Hope with young people through trusting relationships in any relevant way.” It achieves its goal through employees and volunteers who share its mission and beliefs, as outlined by its statement of faith.

In 2021, 71Five had the top-rated application for the Youth Violence and Gang Prevention grant. After applying for several grants during the 2023-2025 grant cycle, the state first accepted the applications, and 71Five was set to receive more than $400,000 in grant funding. But three months later, an Oregon state official contacted the ministry’s executive director and informed him the ministry had been disqualified because of the statement of faith that employees and volunteers sign.

A reply brief that ADF attorneys filed in Youth 71Five Ministries v. Williams notes that Oregon officials granted funds to other organizations that do discriminate in services—like one program that posted on its website why it serves girls but does not serve boys—yet the state is punishing 71Five for posting that it can only accept employees and volunteers who agree with Christian teaching.

  • Pronunciation guide: Pronunciation guide: Galus (GAL’-us)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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