The Justice Department has awarded $186,710 to a prominent conservative activist and a dean at the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Virginia university to write a course on the Constitution for high school students.
The grant by the department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to conservative scholar James McClellan and consultant Jerry Combee comes during a freeze on the rest of the office's $70 million budget. The freeze, which has affected dozens of juvenile aid programs, is part of the Reagan administration's effort to abolish the office by April.
Alfred S. Regnery, director of the juvenile justice office, approved the noncompetitive award to McClellan's Center for Judicial Studies, a conservative think tank in Cumberland, Va., at the same time that another McClellan organization was running into trouble over a grant from the Legal Services Corp. The corporation has withheld part of the $337,000 grant, which expired last month, because McClellan did not complete some of his work.
Regnery said that McClellan's conservative views were a factor in approving the new grant.
"To be candid, it played a role," Regnery said. "What McClellan advocates, which is what the attorney general advocates, is a position that kids need to know about. It was something that wasn't being taught."
McClellan's material will help provide students "a very balanced approach" because the five other groups funded by the education program are more liberal, Regnery said.
Regnery said he has known McClellan since they worked for Republican senators in the 1970s. But he denied giving McClellan special treatment, saying the grant was among a half-dozen that his office had exempted from the Jan. 7 spending freeze because they had been pending for months.
Regnery said he signed McClellan's grant Jan. 27 and has promised the center $46,678 for the first three months. He said there is "a risk" that the project could be aborted if Congress approves the administration's request to rescind the office's funding after April.
McClellan, a former aide to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), did not respond to requests for comment. He told Regnery's office that such courses "can deter juvenile delinquency" and "can result in less student violence."
Combee, dean of business and government at Falwell's Liberty University -- formerly Liberty Baptist College -- in Lynchburg, will be "general editor" of the seven-volume course. He is the author of several textbooks used in Christian schools, including "The History of the World in Christian Perspective."
Combee said he is approaching the project as "a professional political scientist" and it will not have a conservative tilt. "Studies have shown that existing textbooks in American government do not do an effective job in presenting the Constitution," he said.
McClellan has criticized the courts for using the First Amendment to prohibit school prayer and religious activities. He has denounced as "chicanery" and "judicial activism" Supreme Court rulings that key protections in the Bill of Rights apply to the states.
Such arguments were set forth in McClellan's Legal Services project, which featured a manual on religious freedom in public schools. McClellan's legal aid center shared staff and facilities with the Center for Judicial Studies.
Although the Legal Services Corp. found that McClellan had canceled a scheduled conference, failed to complete several reports and received only 14 calls for legal help in 16 months, Regnery said he was "confident we won't have the same problems."
The Justice grant came four days after McClellan's center received a $191,796 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to hold eight conferences on the Bill of Rights. NEH official Joseph Phelan said the McClellan proposal included speakers from "all over the political spectrum."