NEW ORLEANS – U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu has introduced a bill to forbid the federal government from withholding money from programs whose participants engage in voluntary religious activity after a group that requires church attendance lost $30,000.
Landrieu introduced the Freedom to Pray Act on Thursday. The Louisiana Democrat has been working on it for a year since learning from a constituent that the Young Marines program in Bossier Parish might lose federal money because of what Landrieu described as voluntary prayer and “the mention of God in the program.”
During that time, the Department of Justice withdrew a $30,000 grant.
The Young Marines of the Marine Corps League, a national group, describes itself as a youth education and service program for boys and girls from 8 years old through high school, focusing on character building, leadership, and a healthy, drug-free lifestyle, according to its national website.
The group is the focus of the U.S. Marine Corps’ anti-drug program, it said.
The website says that each member must agree to “keep myself clean in mind by attending the church of my faith” and to pledge that “I shall never do anything that would bring disgrace or dishonor upon my God, my Country and its flag, my parents, myself or the Young Marines.”
Under the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion, those requirements put it over the line as far as receiving federal money, said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Louisiana office.
But in a teleconference after she introduced the bill, Landrieu said the Young Marines’ policy “is not promoting a specific faith — just requiring belief in something higher than yourself.”