During the last three years, San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn has steered $80,000 in public money to a Christian organization that provides pro-life educational materials to K-12 schools.
The ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties says the grants may violate federal and state constitutional provisions separating church and state. In exchange for Horn's support, the organization has promoted the North County supervisor in published materials in violation of county guidelines.
The La Mesa-based group, Life Perspectives, most recently received $20,000 from the county Board of Supervisors at Horn's request on June 29. The money covers most of the expenses of the organization's annual "Life Walk," a fundraiser attended by hundreds of participants. The even--scheduled this year for Oct. 30 at De Anza Cove in Mission Bay Park--raises nearly half of the organization's annual budget, which has ranged from $330,000 to $380,000.
Horn did not respond to a list of e-mailed questions by deadline; CityBeat will post his responses online if and when he provides them.
On its application for a Neighborhood Reinvestment Program Grant--often referred to as the supervisors' slush funds--Life Perspectives omitted any reference to Christianity. Instead, it declared: "Funds raised through Life Walk are used to underwrite educational programs that empower students to make healthy choices. Educational material and curriculum developed by Life Perspectives equips students with critical thinking, goal-setting and decision making skills."
The Life Walk website is also vague about its mission, but a closer inspection of the group's "Whole Life Curriculum," authored by Life Perspectives Vice President Linda Noble, reveals a highly religious agenda. For example, the first lesson plan for kindergarteners involves teaching children about zygotes, showing them models of fetuses and using a biblical psalm to emphasize "God's creation and the value of human life." A lesson plan for high-school students claims that assisted suicide and abortion related to "fetal abnormality" mean that "people are being euthanized because they're considered to be a burden." It also cites scripture.Life Perspectives President Michaelene Fredenburg did not return CityBeat's calls by deadline. According to the Whole Life Curriculum website, the lesson plans are distributed primarily to home schools and Catholic schools, such as Nativity Prep Academy and St. Jude Academy. The lessons cover a range of religious issues in addition to abortion, including abstinence and the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.
"Whole Life Curriculum cultivates a worldview that's rooted in the heart of God and the value He imparts to human life," the group's brochure explains.
References to God and the Bible are pervasive in the lesson plans, which could constitute a breach of the separation between church and state, said David Blair- Loy, legal director for the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties.
"The government is not supposed to be funding explicitly religious indoctrination, and that's exactly what they're doing," Blair-Loy said after CityBeat provided copies of the lesson plans. "Obviously, Life Perspectives has its own free-speech rights and its own freedom to preach whatever religious doctrine, and I defend that right--but not with a government subsidy."
The group also collected $30,000 from the county in 2008 and again in 2009. John Sansone, who heads the County Counsel's office, which screens the grant applications, says his office can only go off the information disclosed on the forms. In response to CityBeat's research, he says his office will take another look at the grant.
"The grant money cannot be used for religious purposes," Sansone says. "If someone came and asked, Can we use this money to give to a church to support their religious services,' that's an easy answer. The answer's no."
Sansone says that since the grant pays for the fundraiser and not the direct production and distribution of religious materials, it may fall into a legal gray area.
A letter sent from the county's chief administrative officer, Walter Ekard, to a constituent in April 2010 may provide more clarity. North County resident Beverly Hale complained that Horn had steered money to another pro-life entity, Pregnancy Resource Center, which provides health services such as ultrasounds and information about abortion alternatives to pregnant women. The grant similarly paid for a fundraiser for the group.
"It was a great turnout as we honored the efforts of this organization to preserve and protect the sanctity of life," Horn writes on his county website about a fundraiser for the related Fallbrook Pregancy Resource Center in February 2010. "...I was pleased to provide $10,000 from our Fifth District Neighborhood Reinvestment Program to underwrite the entire event, enabling 100% of the donations (nearly $30,000) to go directly to the work of the center."
Following Hale's letter, Ekard said the county interviewed the group to ensure that the services were "provided to women regardless of their religious belief " and that no funds would go to "spiritual counseling."
"We appreciate you bringing this matter to our attention and we will continue to monitor all of our grants to ensure the appropriate separation between church and state is maintained," Ekard wrote in his letter to Hale. Blair-Loy sees a distinct difference between the Pregnancy Resource Center's services and Life Perspectives' educational materials.
"Obviously, groups that happen to be religious may get government money to perform non-religious services, whether it's ultrasounds or medical care," he said. "But the government can't give them money to teach religious doctrine...It's the next best thing to the government paying ministers to conduct religious services, and the government clearly can't do that."
Hale, who lives in Horn's district, was "appalled" to learn from CityBeat that more money went to pro-life interests, despite Ekard's reassurance.
"Let Horn give them money out of his personal funds--these are county taxpayers' dollars, and these dollars should be used for roads and schools and libraries and things like that," Hale said. "When they're giving to ultra-Christian groups to spread their beliefs, I don't think that's a good use of taxpayer dollars. I mean, have you seen our roads in North County? They suck!" Horn also benefits from the contribution through the group's promotional materials.
Last fall, the county passed regulations that say groups that want to acknowledge a supervisor's support with Neighborhood Reinvestment Program Funds must use this exact language: "Funded by the County of San Diego at the recommendation of Supervisor [Name]."
For the 2009 Life Walk, held after the regulations were passed, the group printed Horn's name and the county emblem, without the disclosure, on materials such as posters.
Currently, Horn's office is featured in a prominent banner ad---again without the required language---on the Life Walk website. The site also lists Horn as a partner, with a short biography copied from Horn's official web page. Further, according to the terms of sponsorship, Horn's name will appear on posters, T-shirts, 7,000 pledge forms and 10,000 flyers.
This year's event is within days of the Nov. 2 run-off election pitting Horn against Vista City Councilmember Steve Gronke.
"Taxpayer dollars should not be used to promote any supervisor," said Lani Lutar, president and CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, which fought for last year's reform of the grant requirements. "A policy was approved last year for specific recognition language, and if an organization is not in compliance, the county should be notifying them and asking them to immediately change their promotion methods."
Correction: We originally conflated the Pregnancy Resource Center and the Fallbrook Pregnancy Resource Center, which are related, but separate entities, with almost identical mission and programs. Both have received grant support from Horn's office.