The twisted web of church and state



The culture of legislating morality runs deep in Indiana.

The influence of evangelical Christian ideology on Indiana politics can be gauged by the scores of lawmakers who lined up to support efforts such as limiting the state's definition of marriage to heterosexual terms and defunding Planned Parenthood.

The Indiana Family Institute, described on its website as "a 16-year-old non-partisan, public education and research organization," supported both the aforementioned pieces of legislation. The state supports IFI, as well, with a federal Medicaid waiver grant aimed at increasing paid child support obligations through a Healthy Marriage Demonstration Project.

Though it pitches itself as non-partisan, IFI's other core project involves running the Hoosier Congressional Policy Leadership Institute meant to "inform citizens of pro-family, pro-life and pro-marriage policy and issues."

The IFI website counts as a legislative victory passage of HJR 6, which seeks to have Hoosiers vote on whether to amend the state constitution to define marriage as an institution between a man and a woman. And at a $75-per-plate fundraising dinner last year in Carmel, IFI honored Gov. Mitch Daniels for signing the defunding of Planned Parenthood bill, which it celebrated as "the nation's strongest pro-life bill and the strongest in our state's history."

Questions remain unanswered about whether IFI is capable of setting aside its political and moralistic underpinnings as it engages in a $1.5 million collaboration with the Department of Child Services to promote "healthy marriage."

In the face of multiple requests for information, the state has been unable to produce any evidence that oversight and accountability measures are in place and functioning. Multiple calls and emails to the Indiana Family Institute remain unreturned.

The story that can be pieced together through public documents serves to illustrate the depth of connection between IFI and Indiana politicians at the state and federal level, as well as highlight the potential for ethics violations and need for greater government transparency.

Starting with Sue

During last year's battle to defund Planned Parenthood, Sue Swayze was all over the media. As Indiana Right To Life's legislative director, Swayze was the public face of the Planned Parenthood defunding efforts.

Swayze told NPR last year that Planned Parenthood's "corporate brand is the face of abortion ... their mission," leveraging the well-known anti-abortion meme that the women's healthcare provider pushed abortion to turn a profit.Conceding that a federal law bars public funds from paying for abortion, Swayze still maintained in that same NPR interview that taxpayer support of Planned Parenthood was "unacceptable."

Public records show that, in addition to her lobbyist roles, Swayze is a regular contributor to a political action committee involved in lobbying for Planed Parenthood defunding and a hetero-centric definition of marriage.

For Swayze, it isn't her master's degree, being a former Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce vice president nor her role as the Christian Chamber of Commerce executive director that is most important in her work at IFI. According to her IFI online bio, being "daughter of the Lord Jesus Christ" is her most important credential, which shapes how she "approaches the political arena," which she calls the "mission field" for her Christian faith.The two areas for Swayze's — as well as the IFI's — public mission work are specifically marriage and "life" issues.

Right-to-life issues, to be sure, are front and center for Swayze, but also relationship work through her role as IFI's program director in charge of implementing the DCS Healthy Marriage Demonstration Project. IFI calls its DCS project "Hoosier Commitment/Parents TWOgether for Indiana Families."

The goal of the DCS project , according to the grant agreement is to "test new strategies to strengthen the Child Support Enforcement program ...The primary services to be tested are designed to achieve these ends by promoting healthy marriage and healthy parental relationships."

The project is designed to serve 1,872 couples and parents in Marion County and about 200 more in Hamilton County over a five-year period ending in 2013.

The state is required to submit progress reports semi-quarterly and at the end of the project.

These reports are to "detail the major activities and accomplishments of the period covered ... the status of achievement of project goals and objectives, data regarding the number and characteristics of participants recruited and enrolled, and the number and characteristics of participants who have left the program, including the reason(s) for leaving." Also, any experienced or anticipated problems.

According to the grant agreement, the state's evaluation activities may include "collecting and reporting services information and outcome information on every participant; ... information on paternity establishment and establishment of, and collection on, child support orders..."

Yet when such materials are requested, the state will not produce any evidence that such information is being collected.

The grant agreement notes that DCS "will have at least a 30-day period for review and comment" on progress reports before releasing them to the public. Research for this story began about a year ago and around that time an open records request for all the public documents associated with this grant was issued. No outcomes analysis was ever made available.

The state failed to make public any of the required reports and left unheeded requests for program administrators to explain the relationship between the state and IFI.

The grant allows IFI to offer incentives to people interested in training to teach curricula such as John Covey's The 8 Habits of a Successful Marriage. And it allows for incentives to referring organizations and celebrations of successes.

The DCS offered no accounting of these expenses. In fact, the only area for semi-detailed line-item summaries on the documents the state provided contained zeroes. Only total scheduled payouts were listed, annual installments of $350,000 since 2009, plus $100,000 in 2008.

The grant agreement also has a provision relating to the media. It says IFI will "cooperate with DCS in utilizing the media to promote this project." The amendment goes on to emphasize the project's aim to promote healthy family goals and "engage in an extensive public relations campaign supporting healthy marriages." Yet DCS and IFI rebuffed numerous requests to discuss these goals.


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