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State says Young Marines are eligible for federal funds


The Louisiana Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention (JJDP) program advisory board recommended that the Bossier Parish Youth Diversion Program — one of two programs the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office program administers — is eligible for federal funds.

The BPSO also administers the Bossier Parish Young Marines. The Department of Justice (DOJ) previously recommended against funding both programs. The DOJ expressed concerns with the Young Marines because of its “special emphasis on the love of God and fidelity to country,” and it took issue with the Youth Diversion Program because it includes a “moment of silence” during which participants are allowed to pray if they choose.

Liberty Institute, the nation’s largest legal nonprofit devoted to defending religious liberty across the U.S., represents the BPSO and attended the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement (LCLE) meeting inBaton Rouge, where the JJDP advisory board announced its decision.

“We commend the advisory board for recognizing the value and effectiveness of the Bossier Parish Youth Diversion Program. We are confident that the board will reach the same conclusion with the Young Marines,” said Mike Berry, an attorney with Liberty Institute.

The Youth Diversion Programs’ application for funds will go before the LCLE for final approval, which is expected to take place in November of 2013. “This is the first step towards funding for both programs. We anticipate that the LCLE will approve funding for both the Youth Diversion Program and the Young Marines without delay,” said Berry.

The Young Marines program has been in place for more than 10 years, without issue, and has successfully reached more than one thousand at-risk youth in Bossier Parish. Instituted in 2012, the Youth Diversion Program is a court-ordered program designed to deter at-risk youth from serious criminal conduct. Federal funds are typically used to purchase uniforms and supplies.

From both sides of the political aisle, Governor Bobby Jindal, U.S. Senators Mary Landrieu, D-La., and David Vitter, R-La., and U.S. Representative John Fleming, R-La., each expressed their support for the programs despite the DOJ’s initial recommendation against continued funding.

In July, Liberty Institute submitted a letter to the DOJ stating that the denial of funds for the youth programs violates the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, because it constitutes unlawful viewpoint discrimination. Liberty Institute demanded that the DOJ recommend and that the LCLE grant BPSO’s application to receive grant funds without delay or special conditions. To view the BPSO’s letter to the DOJ online, visit: http://www.libertyinstitute.org/document.doc?id=91

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Sean Green is managing editor of the Bossier Press-Tribune.