On February 17, 2005, six named plaintiffs represented by attorneys with the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a civil rights lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, challenging the practices of the Firm Foundation of America, a prison ministry organization, at the Bradford County Correctional Facility. Five of the plaintiffs were taxpaying residents of the county and the sixth, also a county resident, was a former prisoner-participant in a vocational program operated by Firm Foundation at the correctional facility. Plaintiffs alleged that public funding (federal, state and local) of the prison vocational program run by the Firm Foundation violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and state law, as the Firm Foundation proselytized inmates in its specific Christian beliefs. Named as defendants were the Firm Foundation, Bradford County, a state commission director, and the U.S. Department of Justice. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as nominal damages, recoupment of public funds, and reimbursement of costs and attorneys' fees. Defendants denied all allegations and moved to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim and for lack of jurisdiction. The case was assigned to District Court Judge James M. Munley, who referred certain issues to Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Blewitt.
After Magistrate Judge Blewitt issued his report and recommendation, the District Court (Judge Munley) dismissed (1) the state law claims for damages against the Firm Foundation, and (2) Plaintiffs' claim for injunctive relief as to all future Department of Justice grants. All other claims survived, as sufficient to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Moeller v. Bradford County, 2006 WL 319288 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 10, 2006).
The County then moved for judgment on the pleadings. The District Court (Judge Munley) denied the motion, finding that: (1) the court had jurisdiction over claims seeking injunctive and declaratory relief based upon allegations that payments to religious organizations violated state constitution; (2) claim was stated that county violated Establishment Clause; (3) claim was stated that county engaged in employment discrimination based on religion; (4) taxpayers had standing to sue; and (5) claim was stated that county was engaged in employment discrimination. Moeller v. Bradford County, 444 F. Supp.2d 316 (M.D. Pa. 2006).
On December 27, 2006, the County moved to stay all proceedings in this case until the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Chao, 433 F.3d 989 (7th Cir.2006), cert. granted sub nom. Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, ---U.S. ----, 127 S.Ct. 722, 166 L.Ed.2d 559 (2006). The Court (Magistrate Judge Blewitt) refused to grant a stay, saying the impact of a decison in Hein and its' timing were too speculative. Moeller v. Bradford County, 2007 WL 431889 (M.D. Pa. Feb 05, 2007).
Shortly thereafter, the plaintiffs and the County settled the case. On April 4, 2007, Judge Munley entered a Consent Order, under which the County agreed that any public funds the County paid to any entity would not be used to support any religious activities and that the County's contracts would contain restrictive statements to that effect. The County agreed to monitor any faith-based funded entity that provided services to the County, such as the Firm Foundation, to assure that (1) public funds were kept separate and not used for any religious activity; (2) the entity did not attempt to pressure recipients of the public funded program into participating in religious activities; (3) the entity did not discriminate on the basis of religious beliefs; and (4) if the entity offered any religious programs, they were kept separate (in time and space) from the public funded programs. Under the consent order, the County would not have to pay plaintiffs' attorneys' fees if compliant with the order for at least two years. The court reserved jurisdiction over the case, in the event future enforcement of the order became necessary.
We have no information indicating post-settlement activity in this case.Dan Dalton - 02/05/2008