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Grant funds will not be withheld from Medford church after investigation findings

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The City of Medford announced on Friday that it won’t withhold an $11,550 grant to Set Free Ministry, a local church that in June was accused of promoting conversion therapy to homeless guests.

The City described their findings in a 25 page report. It investigated accusations made by the Southern Oregon activist groups Siskiyou Rising Tide and Siskiyou Abolition Project that conversion therapy was taking place at the church, which is the site of a shower trailer and food pantry used by homeless service provider Rogue Retreat.

The report, titled “Praying Away the Gay in Southwestern Oregon”, documented pamphlets about conversion therapy that were available at Set Free Ministry as recently as 2018.

According to Medford City Attorney Eric Mitton, there are three reasons the city would have pulled grant funding at Set Free Ministry: if the church had participated in unlawful activities; used public funding to support religious services rather than social services; or discriminated in how those social services were provided.

“We didn’t find any evidence for those three criteria,” Mitton said.

Mitton did acknowledge that if the discredited practice of conversion therapy was being used it would need to also be administered by a licensed therapist to a minor in order to actually be illegal under Oregon law.

He also noted that the church and their homeless services programs are legally separate entities - Set Free Christian Fellowship and Set Free Services respectively. He said under the First Amendment, the City would not be allowed to restrict funding to the social services organization based on the religious practices of the church organization.

The report did recommend adding signage at the church to reassure homeless clients that they are welcome, regardless of religious affiliation or LGBTQ status.

“We thought that there was enough potential for confusion or concerns in the community that we wanted to make sure that we were going above and beyond in reassuring people that they can receive services without having to engage in religious services and without discrimination,” Mitton said.

A separate investigation is happening at the local homeless services provider Rogue Retreat about allegations of discrimination. Rogue Retreat was co-founded and is run by Set Free Ministry Pastor Chad McComas.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.