National Council of Churches urges end of law
That restricts access to legal aid for low-income families
York, November 29, 2005 – The National Council of Churches USA and 29
other faith-based groups are urging Congress to end a law they say hurts
poor families who need legal advice.
calls us to advocate for the ‘least of these’ within our society, and to
seek the common good,” said the Rev. Dr. Eileen Lindner, the NCC’s
Deputy General Secretary for Research and Planning. “The protection of
the access to legal counsel for rich and poor alike stands at the heart
of the commonweal and is consistent with our moral precepts.”
The NCC and
other faith groups want Congress to end a law that prohibits federally
supported legal aid organizations from spending state, local or private
funds to provide legal assistance to low-income families.
the groups say, thousands of low-income individuals and families,
including some of the most vulnerable members of our society, cannot
obtain the critically important legal help they need to cope with a
range of civil legal problems that have destabilized their lives.
study reveals that at least four in five low-income Americans are unable
to obtain legal help when they need it.
so-called “private money restriction” interferes with the ability of
legal services lawyers to help low-income individuals and families in a
wide array of cases, including unlawful evictions, prisoner reentry,
religious asylum, domestic violence, predatory lending, disaster relief,
and many others.
letter to Congressmen Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Alan Mollohan (D-WV),
respectively the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Appropriations
Subcommittee that allocates funds to federal Legal Services Corporation
(LSC) that funds legal aid groups, the groups call for an end to the
private money restriction.
prohibits the use of LSC grant money for certain types of legal
representation. Legal aid organizations may
spend their own funds on these restricted categories of advocacy only if
they first establish a physically separate office with separate staff,
office space, and equipment.
The NCC and other faith-based groups say this compulsory physical
separation imposes unnecessary expenses on cash-strapped legal aid
programs and creates costly obstacles to private philanthropy. As a
result, legal aid organizations are unable to help low-income people in
a number of important types of cases even with non-federal funds.
to being troubled by the harm this law inflicts on low-income people,
faith-based service providers are concerned that if the physical
separation model were to be imported into faith-based settings (as may
occur if the government continues to defend this model in litigation and
policy debates), the result – equivalent physical separation of secular
and faith-based activities – would undermine the public-private
partnership model that delivers important social services to low-income
effort to fix the private money restriction is ongoing in the courts.
Represented by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law,
three New York legal aid programs have challenged the constitutionality
of the physical separation requirement.
District Court judge ruled last year that the application of the
restriction to the three programs violated their First Amendment rights
to advocate for their clients. But the government appealed the District
Court ruling in the case – Velazquez v. LSC – so the future of
legal services for the poor remains in jeopardy.
founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the
USA has been the leading force for ecumenical cooperation among
Christians in the United States. The NCC's member faith groups –
representing a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, historic
African American and Living Peace churches – include 45 million persons
in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the
a copy of
the letter to Congress. For more information about the private money
restriction or to join the growing campaign to restore justice to legal
aid funding, go to
Rebekah Diller: 212-992-8635
NCC News, Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2252,
firstname.lastname@example.org; Leslie Tune, 202-544-2350,