Reprinted from Charisma News Service

A Texas church's successful job-training program is at the center of anational test-case lawsuit challenging the use of government money infaith-based social programs.

The Jobs Partnership of Washington County was founded two years ago atGrace Fellowship Baptist Church in Brenham, outside Houston, to helplow-income workers find better paying jobs. It boasts an 80 percentplacement rate.

But the American Jewish Congress and the Texas Civil Rights Project havefailed suit, arguing that state officials should not have given $8,000toward the program last year because by doing so they violated theconstitutional separation of church and state, reported "The Dallas MorningNews."

The Brenham program is one of 20 nationwide started by Jobs Partnership,in Raleigh, N.C., and is said to have been chosen to test the law because ofTexas governor and Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush'sexpressed support for federal backing for social projects run by religiousgroups.

Several non-religious jobs programs are also available in the Brenhamarea. Those who choose the Jobs Partnership program attend twice-weeklyclasses for 12 weeks, with one of the evenings being focused on Bible studyand the other on practical skills. Classes are opened and closed withprayer, and students are given Bible passages to study.

Although students are invited to consider a relationship with Christ, theyaren't coerced. "We don't force people to accept Jesus," said church pastorGeorge Nelson Jr., who leads the program. "No one is mandated to enter ourprogram," he told the "News." "If a person is in a quandary about whetherthey want to go to church, do you really think they'll choose a faith-basedprogram?"

Nelson said that through the courses marriages had been restored, somepeople who were homeless had gotten off the streets, and others haddeveloped a work ethic for the first time.

Jobs Partnership's national director, Skip Long, said the program "bringstogether people of all races, all business backgrounds, all Christiantraditions for a common cause." He added: "We have a biblical world view.That's who we are. We don't apologize for that."

The ministry was established in 1996, through a meeting between ChrisMangum, a white businessman, and Donald McCoy, an African Americaninner-city pastor. Mangum needed more employees, and McCoy knew of membersof his congregation without work. They decided to form a partnership totrain the unemployed for work and help them find jobs.

Now in addition to the current programs in 20 cities, 13 more are ready tostart, and 75 other areas are considering one. Of the 1,100 graduatesnationwide, 916 are currently in work, reported the "News." One graduate of the Brenham project is Ana Grant, a single mother of two,who has a part-time job as a bus driver. '"I don't have what most peoplehave, but I'm at peace with myself knowing that I am raising my kids the wayGod wants me to," she told the newspaper. In Australia, a report by the Centre for Independent Studies has warnedthat religious groups that use government money to provide welfare servicescould lose their independence and their motivation. Citing British andAmerican experiences, it said that "there is much evidence to suggest thatgovernment contracts gradually corrupt the culture of church welfaregroups.