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Chasing Down the Faith-Based Bandwagon 

Local Matters

Published July 6, 2005 at 5:03 p.m.

BURLINGTON -- Life Choices, a pregnancy center in Phillipsburg, New Jersey, informs clients that having an abortion increases their risk of malignant breast cancer. It also claims that "condoms fail up to 44.5 percent of the time when used by the young and unmarried," and that "sexually active teens are six times more likely [than other teens] to attempt suicide."

A Woman's Concern Pregnancy Resource Center, which is located on the Penn State University campus, claims that premarital sex makes a marriage more likely to fail and "can lead to many types of disorders, including, but not limited to, anorexia, bulimia, depression and low self-worth."

The First Choice Women's Centers of Homestead, Florida, gives presentations to schools, churches and youth groups on "the pro-life issue, teen pregnancy and abstinence." Its website includes a list of "important facts" about abortion, such as "91 percent of the women that have an abortion did not have it because it was their choice . . . Many who want to choose life for their child are not given the opportunity to make that choice."

What do these organizations have in common? For one, they're all providing the public with false or misleading "data" with an obvious political agenda -- for example, abortions do not increase the risk of breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute; condom failure rates have nothing to do with a person's age or marital status; and there is no scientific data linking premarital sex with psychological disorders.

Nevertheless, all three groups, and dozens of others around the country, receive millions in federal funds each year. The nonprofit organization that administered their 2005 federal grants -- the Institute for Youth Development (IYD) -- is coming to Burlington this week for a two-day conference to teach other community groups how to apply for grants earmarked under President Bush's faith-based initiative. The free informational conference, which is being held on July 7 and 8 at the Wyndham Hotel, isn't restricted to faith- and community-based groups, but is open to anyone interested in the federal grant process.

IYD describes itself as a "nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that promotes a consistent, comprehensive, risk-avoidance message to youth for five harmful risk behaviors that are inextricably linked: alcohol, drugs, sex, tobacco and violence." The Sterling, Virginia-based organization is the largest recipient of federal dollars from the "Compassion Capital Fund Program," the faith-based arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

IYD is what's known as an "intermediary organization," meaning that it receives grants from HHS -- $2.5 million per year since 2002 -- and then gives out "sub-awards" to smaller community groups. Each year, IYD disperses about $1.5 million in grants, which average about $38,000 apiece. Most of them go to new, community- and faith-based organizations that have never received federal funding before, according to Peter Moore, IYD's director of the Compassion Capital Fund Project.

A review of past IYD grant recipients reveals that some of them are not overtly political or religious in nature, such as the YMCA of Greater Cleveland and the Shalom Zone Nonprofit Association, a temporary shelter for homeless youth in Seattle, Washington.

But many other groups funded by IYD have an obvious political or ideological agenda. For example, the website for Life Choices of Phillipsburg, N.J., calls abortion "the modern-day holocaust." CareNet of the Palouse, of Moscow, Idaho, offers free counseling to women who are considering an abortion -- its website lists more than 20 "common post-abortion symptoms" -- though its counselors are neither professionals nor licensed by the State of Idaho. And the Abstinence and Marriage Education Partnership of Wheeling, Illinois, another 2005 IYD grant recipient, opposes the development of a vaccine for Human Papillomavirus, a virus that can lead to cervical cancer. The group's director claims that such a vaccine would encourage young people to have premarital sex.

Moore says that IYD does not review the accuracy of the scientific and medical data that its grantees distribute to their clients or post on the Internet. Nor, he claims, are IYD grant applicants required to adhere to a particular religious or political viewpoint. Grantees, he says, need only be registered as a nonprofit group and be "doing work that is suitable under their grant, such as helping troubled kids, helping unwed mothers or helping promote healthy and happy marriages." Moore insists that IYD grant recipients "don't have to take any kind of pledge of allegiance to our principles."

Nevertheless, IYD's political leanings are easy to discern. The organization was founded in 1996 by its current president, Shepherd Smith. Although no relation to the Fox News anchor, he's a self-described evangelical Christian, "true-blue conservative Republican . . . [and] part of the right-wing conspiracy."

Before founding IYD, Smith founded and served as president of another group, Americans for a Sound AIDS/HIV Policy. According to Laurie Garrett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter with Long Island's Newsday, in the 1980s and early '90s Smith spoke in favor of mandatory HIV testing for all U.S. soldiers but opposed guaranteeing their confidentiality. As Garrett wrote on a 2002 online forum for the group, Journalists Against AIDS, Smith wanted soldiers who tested HIV-positive to be restricted to U.S. soil and immediately investigated for homosexuality.

"Mr. Smith believed that a sort of 'gay mafia' was controlling U.S. public health responses to HIV," Garrett writes, and favored mandatory HIV testing for all health providers and dentists, with the names of those who test positive to be made publicly available.

Last year, the Minnesota AIDS Project included Smith on its "Anti-Gay Health's 'Most Wanted' List." The list included members of the Religious Right who are "responsible for undermining efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS," and promote "junk science masquerading as legitimate medical advice."

As the largest grant recipient of faith-based funding through HHS, IYD is also one of the nation's largest advocates of abstinence-only education. Critics have identified a host of scientifically faulty data that's being taught in abstinence-only programs across the country, including claims that condoms do not prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, 50 percent of gay teens are HIV-positive, and HIV is present in human tears and sweat.

According to Moore, this is IYD's first visit to the Green Mountain State; the organization has never issued a grant to a Vermont-based group. Has IYD ever funded an organization that is pro-choice? Moore says it's possible, though he couldn't think of an example. When asked if a group like Planned Parenthood of Northern New England would be eligible for a community-based grant through IYD, Moore says probably not, since IYD prefers to give money to community groups that have never received any federal funding.

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About The Author

Ken Picard

Ken Picard

Ken Picard has been a Seven Days staff writer since 2002. He has won numerous awards for his work, including the Vermont Press Association's 2005 Mavis Doyle award, a general excellence prize for reporters.


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