The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

The Rave

October 11, 2012

Union County's faith-based experiment

Union County has agreed to allow a 31-year-old man who flunked out of drug court to enroll in a faith-based 14-month residential treatment program.

It is the first time the county has tried a faith-based program such as Teen Challenge. The organization is well-established, having been founded 50 years ago. Teen Challenge points to a variety of studies suggesting its methods are more effective than conventional, secular treatment programs.

Union County Commissioner Preston Boop notes that using the program costs the county nothing. The individual enrolled in the program may be asked to pay, but there are cases when enrollment costs are waived.

The Teen Challenge Training Center, being used by Union County, reported contributions, gifts and grants of $3.6 million on top of the $900,000 in program revenue, according to its most recent tax filings.

The training center employed 142 people and used the services of 105 other people in the year ending Oct. 31, 2011.

Judge Michael Hudock notes that the program would not be appropriate for all offenders. "It's up to the defendant to decide whether it is an appropriate program for him or her," Hudock said. "For some people, a faith-based program may not be appropriate."

That raises questions about the role of the government in using a Christian alternative to jail when there is no comparable secular option. Judge Hudock notes that Teen Challenge is just one implement in the drug-fighting toolbox. The camp-style treatment facility is the latest in a string of alternative treatments Boop has worked to bring to Union County.

The drug treatment court began in 2008, the DUI court in 2010 and the day reporting center for low-level nonviolent offenders started in June.

But any time government and faith-based organizations engage, there is potential for unforeseen conflict, such as the controversy over how contraception mandates in the health care reform law affect faith-based employers. If Union County's stake in the use of Teen Challenge is limited to allowing the client to choose to attend, the public's investment is limited. Union County officials do not seem to have strayed far out on a limb in determining that the potential benefit of helping an addict recover outweighed the risk. If it takes a Bible to get the job done, fine, as long as it's the client's Bible.

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