NY Times and leading faith groups
urge end to law
That restricts access to legal aid for low-income families
York, December 7, 2005 – The influential New York Times has joined with
attorneys and religious leaders to call for an end to a law that
restricts legal help for poor families.
Last week, the National
Council of Churches and 30 faith groups wrote to the chair and ranking
member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee to call for an end to a
federal restriction on legal aids groups who work primarily with poor
families. The House Appropriations Subcommittee allocates funds to the
federal Legal Services Corporation (LSC) that funds legal aid groups
that make these services available to the estimated 80 percent of poor
people who can't afford a lawyer.
The federal law
prohibits the use of LSC grant money for certain types of legal
representation. Legal aid organizations
are also prevented from spending their own funds unless they first
establish a physically separate office with separate staff, office
space, and equipment.
Now the New York Times has
weighed in with a
Dec. 6 editorial calling on a three-judge federal
appeals panel to reject an appeal of a federal district court ruling
that the "separate facilities" rule is unconstitutional. "The fact that
Washington provides money for legal representation does not give it
unlimited authority to control what lawyers say or do, or to restrict
the use of private money so severely," the Times wrote.
Immediately after the Times
editorial appeared, the Rev. Dr. Eileen Lindner, deputy general
secretary of the NCC for Research and Planning, wrote a
letter to the
editor pointing out that there is more than one remedy to the problem.
"Congress, too, can fix this
dangerous rule, which forces cash-strapped nonprofits to waste
charitable donations on separate offices instead of on assisting the
needy," Lindner wrote. "By acting, Congress will ensure that many more
vulnerable, low-income people have access to legal council."
"It's time for Congress top
stand up for those who without a helping hand from legal services
organizations and the shared blessings of others have no place else to
turn for legal help."
Nov. 29 letter to Congressmen Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Alan Mollohan (D-WV),
respectively the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Appropriations
the NCC and other faith-based groups claimed the compulsory physical
separation imposes unnecessary expenses on 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
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.
calls us to advocate for the ‘least of these’ within our society, and to
seek the common good,” Lindner wrote to the Congressional
representatives. “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.”
parallel effort to fix the private money restriction in the courts is
led by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, which is
representing three New York legal aid programs to challenge 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,