Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) has introduced the Freedom to Pray Act in response to a U.S. Department of Justice decision to withdraw funding from a youth program in her state that allowed voluntary prayer and mentioned God.
The Young Marines, a program run by the Bossier Sheriff's Office, Bassier Parish, La., was recently denied a $30,000 grant because it allows voluntary prayer and mentions God.
"This is clearly a serious overreach by the Department of Justice and I intend to do something about it," Landrieu said in a July 11 statement. "These kids are working to improve themselves and their communities; they deserve support, not unnecessary hurdles."
The Freedom to Pray Act would not only protect the Young Marines but similar programs nationwide.
"To fix this problem, the Freedom to Pray Act will prohibit the federal government from withholding funds simply because participants are voluntarily praying," she continued. "It's legal, it's constitutional and it should not be singled out by the Justice Department. The DOJ has plenty of problems to worry about – it should focus more on them and not a program that is doing good work for kids in our community."
Landrieu was first alerted to the issue in June 2012, when one of her constituents warned her that the Justice Department was looking at withdrawing the funding. Her office had been in "frequent contact" with Justice Department officials to try to resolve the issue before the decision was made.
Landrieu's office also began a petition on her website asking the Justice Department to restore the grant.
In a statement to KSLA 12, a Louisiana local news channel, the Justice Department said the funding decision was put in the hands of the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement, which was responsible for determining if grant applicants were in compliance with the grant requirements. The Bossier Sheriff's Office, though, maintains that the decision to require that grantees not engage in "inherently religious activity" came from the Department of Justice.
The main focus of Young Marines, according to its website, is character building. Participants "learn military history, customs and courtesies, close order drill, physical fitness, rank structure and other subjects pertaining to life skills."
Landrieu is up for re-election in 2014. As a Democrat representing a state President Barack Obama did not carry in his two elections, her race may be one of those targeted by Republicans in their efforts to win control of the Senate.