Last week, Truth Wins Out expressed concern that the ex-gay Exodus Global Alliance is helping to draw youths with drug and alcohol problems into involuntary and antigay “Teen Challenge” programs in the United States and New Zealand.

Now we learn from Ken Avidor (via Pam Spaulding) that U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar is requesting $500,000 in U.S. taxpayer money for Minnesota Teen Challenge, a pray-away-the-drugs program whose parent organization — strangely enough — hires ex-gay speakers, utilizes ex-gay media, and is operated by the Assemblies of God, the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination.

The “Teen Challenge” network apparently offers no reputable professional counseling; instead, its amateur employees program youths with church ideology while blaming teens’ problems on “Satanic” influences such as Halloween and Harry Potter. It offers no well-designed tracking of success and failure rates; its reports and supposed success stories appear to consist of isolated anecdotes and head counts which exclude youths who failed to complete a treatment program.

Treatments, by the way, reportedly include up to a year of residency in isolation, denial of medical treatment, and relentless assaults upon Jewish and other non-evangelical faith perspectives. Supporters include U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s rumored choice for drug czar, former congressman Jim Ramstad.

Maia Szalavitz of The Huffington Post is alarmed at Teen Challenge’s substitution of brainwashing for sound medical treatment:

Further, according to Teen Challenge, “Addiction is a sin, not a disease.” Consequently, the program does not allow the use of medication.

Beyond this, it humiliates and attempts to “break down” people with addictions, using techniques that I have covered extensively elsewhere that are known to do more harm than good.

Since half of all addicts have a co-existing mental illness which often requires medication, banning it is not exactly evidence-based practice. And since there are medications that can help treat particular addictions, this is even more absurd. Given that Ramstad sponsored a bill to change the name of the National Institute on Drug Abuse to the National Institute on Diseases of Addiction, it is deeply troubling that he’d support an organization which views it as sin.

Andy Birkey of the Minnesota Independent says that Teen Challenge’s acceptance of past and future federal subsidies obligate it to submit to public scrutiny and accountability:

If you accept taxpayer money, you have to accept that you’re going to receive public scrutiny. That simple point seems to be eluding Minnesota Teen Challenge (MNTC), the faith-based drug treatment program which secured a federal earmark in early 2008 arranged by Rep. Jim Ramstad and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, for its “Know the Truth” program which aims to prevent drug use.

Operating close to the border of church and state, the group’s members are unrealistic if they think their work is not going to get attention.

…The point of my article was not to suggest that MNTC was not successful or beneficial, as Scherber implies. Rather it was to point out the overtly religious nature of the organization and that the program has historically been controversial. In the interest of brevity, I left some examples out. For instance, MNTC’s stance on Halloween verges on the comical (“Halloween is a day set up totally for Satan … The more people who go out dressed as demons, ghosts, witches and goblins, the more glory Satan receives”). …

I don’t question that faith-based programs can be very effective for those that share the programs’ faith. Faith is a huge motivator in people’s lives. I think MNTC has been very effective for the clients it serves. However, I don’t think it’s appropriate for judges, prosecutors or public defenders to suggest the program as an alternative to jail.

In economic boom times, taxpayer dollars should be restricted to professionally operated and audited facilities with solid, evidence-based performance records. In troubled economic times, taxpayer dollars should not be wasted on one prosperous denomination’s religious indoctrination centers.