Newly-discovered Mesa County documents (pdf) reveal that in 2017, the Board of County Commissioners handed over $57,000 in taxpayer funds to a Christian organization represented by Janet Rowland for the purpose of recruiting solely evangelical Christian foster families in Mesa County.
Rose Pugliese, John Justman and Scott McInnis — all Republicans — unanimously agreed to enter into a contract (pdf) to pay $57,360 in taxpayer funds to Project 1.27, a Christian ministry that works through churches to recruit religious foster and adoptive families to assure children are “cared for within Christian communities.”
Janet Rowland was Project 1.27’s national director.
The group engages in “[foster] training with a solid Christian perspective,” and provides training to “Christian parents wishing to foster and adopt.” The group’s website makes no mention of recruiting families belonging to any other religions or of no religion.
The county’s contract required 20 hours a month be spent on “faith based recruitment.”
Project 1.27’s website only addresses recruitment of Christian families, saying they provide “state-required, biblically-based training for Christian parents wishing to foster and adopt.”
This is misleading since legally, no state can require “biblically-based training” in anything. Project 1.27’s website does not say it is open to recruitment of families from any other religion, or non-religious families.
The grant arguably violates the separation of church and state embodied in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government from taking any actions that favor one religion over another, and prohibits government from involving citizens in religion against their will. Even though the grant may have violated the law, it was put on the Consent Agenda at the Commissioners’ Monday, December 4, 2017 meeting. A Consent Agenda is for items that are so completely noncontroversial that they “can be approved by a single motion.” Consent agendas normally include rote or repetitive procedural items like renewing public transit contracts, and renewing cooperation between the City and County on processing elections.
When she was previously commissioner, Janet Rowland developed a reputation for defiantly using the machinations of county government to proselytize. In 2008, Rowland started praying aloud herself to Jesus Christ at the start of taxpayer-funded commissioner meetings. Prior to her tenure, commissioner meetings had been completely secular. Her actions generated so many complaints that the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) stepped in and sent a letter to the County ordering them to stop praying to Jesus at their public hearings. FFRF was among a number of national organizations that threatened to sue the county over the practice, which was deemed to have stepped far over the line of separation of church and state.
The information about the county using taxpayer money to advance Christianity emerged on the heels of a complaint that a worker at a polling place in Clifton Christian Church used her position to tell voter that he should “attend church on Sundays” because church was “a nice place” and the county was lucky to have the church as a polling place. The voter had mentioned to the poll worker that he wasn’t Christian and was uncomfortable with having to enter a church to vote.