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Provision to protect programs with voluntary religious activities included in funding bill

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WASHINGTON – A provision authored by U.S. Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., to protect programs, like the Young Marines in Bossier City, that permit voluntary prayer has been included in the final bill that funds the government for Fiscal Year 2014.

Landrieu’s provision will require the Department of Justice (DOJ) to review the Office of Justice Programs’ (OJP) grant guidelines and ensure those guidelines protect grant recipients’ ability to voluntary exercise their right to express their religious beliefs.

In July 2012, Sen. Landrieu added the language to the FY2014 Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill, after public outcry over the Young Marines program reached its height.

A rally was held at a Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office substation in Bossier City July 4 in support of the program that had come under fire from the DOJ for its inclusion of God in its pledge and use of voluntary prayer.

“Programs like the Young Marines in Bossier City will now have peace of mind knowing that they will not have their funding revoked because they offer voluntary prayer or other religious activities,” Sen. Landrieu said. “The Department of Justice’s overreach threatened not only the positive contributions of Young Marines to Bossier, but community enhancement programs like this across the country. I’m proud to have secured this provision that will help avoid the unnecessary conflict that the Young Marines experienced the last couple years with the Department of Justice.”

The Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill is part of the bill anticipated to pass the Senate and House this week before heading to the President for his expected signature.

OJP will have to submit a review of its grant guidelines and regulations to the Appropriations Committee within 45 days. The review will also require DOJ to outline plans to improve the Department’s outreach activities to potential grant applicants regarding the right of program participants to participate in voluntary religious activities.

Since June 2012, Sen. Landrieu has been working on this issue after she learned from a constituent email that the Young Marines program might lose federal investment from the Department of Justice (DOJ) because of voluntary prayer and the mention of God in the program.

Sen. Landrieu and her staff have been in frequent contact with local officials and senior DOJ leadership to try and resolve this problem, so the program can continue to receive federal funding and serve the community.

In July 2013, Sen. Landrieu introduced the Freedom to Pray Act, a stand-alone bill to address this issue, which has gained broad bipartisan support.