County Supervisors Illegally Funded Christian Camp

SAN DIEGO – The San Diego County Board of Supervisors violated the California Constitution when it handed over $21,000 in government funds to a local Christian camp the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties charged. In a letter sent late last week, the San Diego ACLU demanded that the county take action to ensure that it complies with the California Constitution’s “No Aid Clause” that prohibits the state from directly appropriating money to religious organizations.

On August 2, 2011, the Board of Supervisors passed Supervisor Horn’s resolution to allocate funds retroactively to Green Oak Ranch through its Neighborhood Reinvestment Program. The grant was to cover capital improvements to Green Oak, which describes itself as a “church” and a “healing community under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”

The California Constitution contains strict limits on governmental support of religious organizations. Its “No Aid Clause” prohibits direct government grants to any religious organizations, even if the aid is purportedly for non-religious use. Green Oak Ranch had identified capital improvement expenses it felt were separate from religious activities.

“The law has been long-settled on this matter,” said David Blair-Loy, legal director for the San Diego ACLU. “The government cannot directly fund religious groups for any purpose. Government funds cannot be used to lead bible classes, and they cannot be used to repair buildings.” Religious organizations are free, of course, to raise funds from private sources for whatever purposes they like.

This is not a new issue. Almost 90 years ago, the California Court of Appeals held that the No Aid Clause prohibited the state from directly appropriating money to restore the San Diego Mission. In California, state and local government may not give money directly to religious organizations for restoration of their property or any other purpose.

The Neighborhood Reinvestment program is a controversial fund that critics have labeled a “slush fund,” in which supervisors have each had between $250,000 and $500,000 to distribute to support community, social and cultural activities. Supervisor Horn has a history of earmarking his portion of these funds to Christian organizations. In August of 2010, the San Diego CityBeat reports that he provided $95,000 in funds to Green Oak Ranch in 2006 and 2007, and that the organization failed to file reports explaining how it spent the money.

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ACLU’s Letter to County Counsel