A rural Care Net pregnancy resource center will receive a building loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) after all, despite the agency’s initial refusal to work with the Christian-based group. Last Friday, the USDA’s National Appeals Division decided that just because the center in Brattleboro, Vt., holds Bible studies at its facility, the agency had no reason to discriminate against it.
Care Net is a Christian non-profit organization that provides classes and services to pre-natal and post-natal women in need. It also offers optional Bible studies.
The USDA has a program to guarantee loans to non-profits in rural areas with up to 20,000 people—Brattleboro’s population is 12,000. The USDA specifies that “a religious organization is eligible, on the same basis as any other eligible private organization, to access and participate in USDA assistance programs.” It further specifies that the USDA does not discriminate against religious education, and does not require that religious speech take place in a separate building.
When Care Net of Windham County applied for a building loan in 2011, it met all the requirements for the special loan program, yet the USDA denied the loan, citing undisclosed “faith-based eligibility criteria.” The USDA advised Care Net to hold Bible classes in the local public school instead.
A private trust gave Care Net a $15,000 grant to help build its new facility, which provides emergency housing to pregnant women and new moms in need. But because of the USDA’s loan denial, Care Net was not able to obtain the property in time to use the grant.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) represented the Care Net center. ADF Senior Counsel Steven H. Aden said, “The USDA should have known that disqualifying a faith-based provider from funds needed to help women in need was both unconstitutional and wrongheaded.”
Care Net could not be reached for comment. It isn't clear whether the center will be able to build on its original site or reapply for the grant it missed after initially being denied the loan.