Forge Youth Mentoring (“Forge”) is a Christian organization focused on mentoring vulnerable youth in Richland, Washington and other communities in the region. The founding Executive Director of Forge, Todd Kleppin, has been mentoring youth for over 25 years in his commitment to his faith. Forge operates under a Biblical mandate that the church should serve its community. Todd leads Forge to fulfill this calling by providing local youth in Benton County with mentors who serve as positive role models.
Last year, Forge contracted with Benton County to receive $90,000 over two-years from the county for mentoring services for children and teens. Todd agreed that he would not use any funds for religious purposes and that participation in the program would not be conditioned on religious belief. Todd is also required to send an itemized list to the county every month detailing how the money is spent and none of it is going to promote religion.
In May, Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to Benton County demanding that it pull the money from the only youth mentoring program in the county. FFRF complained that the county’s cooperation with Forge violated the U.S. Constitution and the state of Washington’s Constitution by allowing a religious organization to participate in a government program. It also argued that Forge is breaking the nondiscrimination provision of its contract and Washington state laws by requiring its mentors to be Christians.
First Liberty spoke with county officials and sent a letter on behalf of Forge in response to FFRF’s claim, informing the county that it is perfectly legal and constitutional for Benton County to contract with Forge. The letter exposed that FFRF omitted case law recently decided that contradicts its propositions. Trinity Lutheran makes it clear that the government cannot prohibit religious organizations like Forge from participating in generally available programs and benefits because they are religious.
First Liberty counsel, Keisha Russell said, “It is perfectly legal for Benton County to contract with a religious organization like Forge to provide services to the children and teens of the county. As usual, FFRF misuses the law to discriminate against religious Americans.”
After receiving First Liberty’s letter, Benton County decided to continue its contract with Forge.
Todd responded, “We are pleased that Benton County sees the value in our ministry and will allow us to continue serving the children and teens who need our support. We are grateful for the wisdom, guidance, and support from the First Liberty team. From our first contact they helped us understand our rights, walked us through constitutional law, and even went to great efforts in making sure our staff was encouraged and prayed for through the stressful situation. God clearly used them to ensure that we continue in fulfilling our calling to inspire and empower the church to serve kids in need of positive adult role models.”