Bachmann and Associates, Inc., a counseling center that receives state funds and is owned by Rep. Michele Bachmann and her husband, Dr. Marcus Bachmann, uses counseling methods steeped in fundamentalist Christianity, raising questions about its use of taxpayer money.
Founded in 2003, Bachmann’s clinic has taken in nearly $30,000 in state funds since 2007. Dr. Bachmann has said publicly that God heals people at his clinic and that Jesus Christ is the “Almighty Counselor.”
“We are distinctly a Christian counseling agency here in the Twin Cities,” he told KKMS radio in 2008. “We have 27 Christian counselors, Christ-centered, very strong in our understanding of who the Almighty Counselor is, and as we rely on God’s word and the Almighty Counselor, we have the opportunity to change people’s lives.”
He continued, “God heals people and if we give opportunity, if we are a willing vessel and we go according to what God’s word is, it works.”
The clinic applied for and received Rule 29 and Rule 31 licensing from the state in 2003. The rules allow the clinic to receive state money to treat low-income Minnesotans for mental health and chemical dependency problems. The clinic has earned $27,564 in state payments since 2007 – and likely received more, since the Minnesota Transparency and Accountability Project’s online data only goes back to 2007. Bachmann and Associates took $1,419 in public money in 2007, $13,140 in 2008, $12,493 in 2009 and $512 so far in 2010, according to the transparency project.
All of the clinic’s counselors identify as Christians. Among them is Marian E. Eckhardt, a licensed psychologist. Her mission statement says, “I believe that through knowledge, faith and dependency on God and His revealed truths one receives the strength and love to truly fulfill their life’s purpose.”
Saul Selby, the clinic’s drug and alcohol counselor, is also an ordained minister. Selby writes that he seeks to “help individuals and couples experience wholeness and healing through the application of biblical principles and the Love of Christ.”
Debra Kullberg, an associate marriage and family therapist, is also a licensed member of the clergy. “Jesus as the Son of God is the Savior, Healer, and intimate Lover of my soul,” she says in a statement on the clinic’s website. “He invites those He calls to join Him on a personal journey to the Cross. Our entire being is healed and restored (body, soul, and spirit) as we surrender ‘our way’ for ‘His way.'”
Watchdog groups say that the state’s arrangement with Bachmann and Associates is problematic.
“Unless they are receiving money purely through vouchers, this is clearly unconstitutional,” said Alex Luchenitser, staff attorney for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Vouchers are used in some states to allow those on public assistance to purchase services, but Minnesota has no such system in place.
“It’s wrong for the government to buy clinical services that include submission to God or proselytization,” said Luchenitser. “This appears to be a textbook case of taxpayers funds for religious purposes.”
And if Dr. Bachmann only hires Christian employees, that could compound the problem, he added. “It sounds like employees have to be Christian to work in the clinic. That would be religious discrimination.”
Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, was a bit more reserved.
“If the government is going to pay Lutheran Social Services and Catholic Charities to do stuff, then they have to meet certain critieria. Bachmann and Associates has to meet the same criteria.”
“There are requirements that they insulate the sectarian or religious parts of their operations from the non-sectarian parts of their operation.”
He added, “I really don’t know if Bachmann and Associates is doing that.”
Dr. Bachmann did not return the Minnesota Independent’s request for comment about the clinic.
Given that the clinic is attached to conservative superstar Rep. Michele Bachmann, it has received a fair amount of criticism over the years.
The religious point of view represented at Bachmann and Associates is very conservative, if the clinic’s affiliation with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) is any indication. Dr. Bachmann’s clinic is listed among the WELS/ELS Christian Counselors and Life Coaches, a groups of counselors “intent on serving our Lord.”
WELS became a campaign issue in 2006, when the Star Tribune reported that then-candidate Bachmann’s church was a member of WELS, a denomination that described the Pope as the Antichrist (Bachmann denied that she believed that herself).
The clinic also reputedly engages in “reparative therapy,” or treatment aimed at making homosexuals straight. The first time that accusation was lodged at the clinic was back in 2006 in a City Pages profile on Rep. Bachmann.
Dr. Bachmann told the paper that he does not encourage gays to become straight. But he has spoken about the issue at length on Christian radio. He told Point of View Talk Radio that if a child confides in a parent that they might be gay, that parent should discourage the child from being gay. He also said because of public schools, the number of homosexuals in America is increasing.
“We have to understand that barbarians need to be educated, need to be disciplined,” Bachmann said. “And just because someone thinks [they’re gay] or feels it doesn’t mean we need to go down that road. That’s what is called the sinful nature.”
“We have a responsibility as parents and authority figures not to allow such feelings to move into action steps” such as homosexual relationships, he said. “What is our public school system doing today? They are giving full wide open doors not only encouragement to think it, but to encourage actions steps.”
He concluded, “The percentage of homosexuals in this country is small but by these open doors we can see it is starting to increase.”