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ACLU questions federal funds to Iowa Family Policy Center
There have been rumblings about such a move since The Iowa Independent first reported last month about the funding, which the politically-influential Christian organization has been receiving for five years for a marriage-mentoring program called “Marriage Matters.” Randall Wilson, legal director for the ACLU of Iowa, said in a phone interview Wednesday that his organization plans to closely examine the grants IFPC has received through public records requests.
“We have two concerns,” he said. “One, were there any Establishment Clause violations, and two, was the money spent in the way in which it was supposed to be spent” by the Iowa Family Policy Center.
The Establishment Clause is contained within the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and bans the establishment of an official religion.
In addition to being a religious organization, the IFPC and its political action committee are a leading voice of opposition to same-sex marriage in Iowa. The group advocates for an amendment to the Iowa Constitution banning same-sex marriage through their LUV Iowa initiative. They also support the candidacy of Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bob Vander Plaats, who has promised to issue an executive order putting a stay on the Iowa Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage until a constitutional ban is brought up for a vote.
If there is any impropriety in spending by the IFPC there is potential for what is known as a clawback provision, which allows the federal government to recoup misused federal dollars. In a case brought by the ACLU of Massachusetts in 2006, a religious abstinence advocacy group called “The Silver Ring Thing” was found to be in violation of the Establishment Clause when it used federal dollars to purchase and distribute silver rings engraved with Bible verses. The group could have been forced to pay back more than $1 million in funds, but thanks to a settlement between the ACLU and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only had to pay back $75,000 but lost eligibility for any future federal funding.
When asked whether the ACLU has considered looking into the clawback provision, Wilson said, “The Iowa Family Policy Center is a very reputable organization and until we investigate what went on, we can’t speculate on what demands or recommendations we might make.”
However, Wilson made it clear that they will “not be ruling anything out.”
Attempts to confirm whether a clawback provision for IFPC’s grants exists have gone unanswered. Kenneth Wolf, spokesperson for the Administration of Children and Families, the agency responsible for awarding IFPC almost $2.2 million of their $3 million in federal funding, said in an e-mail that he was researching the matter but offered no definitive answer.
IFPC spokesman Bryan English confirmed in a recent interview with The Des Moines Register that they would be foregoing any remaining federal funding, which they are due to receive through 2011.
Liberal radio host and former state lawmaker Ed Fallon recently called for gay and lesbian married couples to seek marriage mentoring services through the admittedly anti-gay Iowa Family Policy Center’s marriage program to see if they would be allowed to participate.
Recipients of federal funds are bound by the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act when providing service. This means they cannot discriminate on the basis of sex, race, religion or limits of physical ability. Although there is no current federal language protecting individuals on the basis of sexual identity, Iowa Code does provide that protection to its citizens.
Wilson said if a legally married same-sex couple sought services from the Iowa Family Policy Center’s “Marriage Matters” program and were denied, “they would have cause for a claim of discrimination.”
Wilson also noted that he hopes “this situation [with the IFPC] receives a whole lot of sunlight.”
Between 2004 and 2009 the Iowa Family Policy Center received more than $3 million in federal grants through two subsidiaries of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 2004 and 2005 the IFPC received a total of $850,000 from the Administration for Children and Families’ Compassion Capital Fund. From 2006 to 2009 they received $2.2 million through the U.S. Healthy Marriage Demonstration Fund, which is doled out in yearly increments of $550,000 and were to be awarded to IFPC through 2011. IFPC’s Marriage Matters program that is to execute the Healthy Marriage Demonstration is not a separate entity as required by many federal grants but simply a registered trademark of the Iowa Family Policy Center.
A spokesman for IFPC did not respond to requests for comment.