SINCE 1974 the Justice Department has run a juvenile justice grants program that now costs $70 million a year. It is one of the many small domestic spending programs the administration would abolish. "Juvenile justice grants," the new budget documents say, "were initiated to encourage states to separate incarcerated juveniles from adult offenders, and to decriminalize . . . offenses such as truancy and running away from home. Both objectives have been accomplished to the extent practicable." Besides, the government needs the money.

Fine -- but before they shut the program down, the boys at the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention apparently could not resist handing out a few last fistfuls of cash. Director Alfred Regnery granted $186,710 to the Center for Judicial Studies in Cumberland, Va., to produce a set of course materials on the Constitution for high school students. The center is run by James McClellan, a former aide to Sen. Jesse Helms and recipient of other grants from the administration, including one for $337,000 from the Legal Services Corp., part of which has been withheld in a dispute about how much Mr. McClellan did for the money.

Mr. McClellan chose as general editor of the project on the Constitution Jerry Combee, dean of business and government at the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg. The grant application says the course material will help restore the Constitution to its rightful place in civics courses, from which it fell earlier in the century when "such influential change agents as the National Education Association consciously chose to dethrone" it. The material will also seek to offset what Mr. McClellan deplores as a tendency to "approach the Constitution as primarily a statement of rights rather than as a statement of the limited powers of government."

The application says the new course will help deter juvenile delinquency. In addition, said Mr. Regnery, "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."

But a phony "juvenile justice" grant given out as a tired program is being shut down -- deservedly -- to help reduce the deficit is not the way to change what is being taught in the schools. The grant mocks the taxpayers; it should be recalled.