ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A group advocating the separation of church and state (search) has sued the federal Education Department over funding for a tiny Christian college with a predominantly Alaska Native or American Indian student body.
Alaska Christian College (search) in Soldotna has just 37 students, but has received more than $1 million in federal money in the past two years, according to the Freedom From Religion Foundation (search).
The college is affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska.
"This is just promoting religion," Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Wisconsin-based foundation, said Tuesday. The group's lawsuit was filed Thursday in Wisconsin.
The group hopes to prevent the school from receiving $435,000 — an allotment inserted by Republican Rep. Don Young in a federal spending bill passed last November. He obtained $400,000 for the school the previous year.
Young did not immediately return a call for comment about the appropriations.
Alaska Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski also got the school $200,000 for a counseling center, according to the group.
College President Keith Hamilton said Tuesday the college, which offers a two-year degree, undergoes a rigorous process before receiving the money.
"Throughout this granting process ACC has acted with integrity and honesty and has spent the money in the manner that has been approved by the Department of Education," said a statement issued Tuesday by the college.
Hamilton said the college helps students make the transition from village life to larger schools; he said half of the students next year will be matriculating at Kenai Peninsula College.
Students also have had credits transferred to various other colleges and universities, including the University of Alaska Anchorage and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, he said.
Soldotna is a city of about 3,800 on the Kenai Peninsula, 150 miles south of Anchorage.