“‘Rejected’ stamp.” Public domain, courtesy Pixabay.

February 11, 2017; Times Free Press (Chattanooga, TN)

Imagine if your nonprofit were offered a grant equal to half of its annual budget. Your original request for that money was based on programs you believe would be positive…if only the grantor wasn’t actively threatening your community.

NPQ has been following this story as it develops. One nonprofit after another has opted not to accept six-figure grants from a federal program purportedly aimed at combatting violent extremism. The Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program, which has always been somewhat controversial in Muslim communities, has become more so as its focus has reportedly narrowed to include only Muslim extremism.

The California-based Bayan Claremont graduate school is now the fourth nonprofit to reject the money—in this case, $800,000, an amount equal to half a year’s annual budget. It had declared its intention to take a wait-and-see attitude, but on Friday, after some debate, it decided that the Trump administration’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and the travel ban centered on majority Muslim countries had gone too far.

Bayan Claremont’s grant had been the second-largest of the 31 made in the first round of awards made under the CVE program sponsored by the Obama administration. The school was to have used the money to support a new generation of Muslim community leaders.

The founding president, Jihad Turk, admitted that giving up “a heck of a lot of money” not an easy choice. Nevertheless, he said, “Our mission and our vision is to serve the community and to bring our community to a position of excellence. And if we’re compromised, even if only by perception in terms of our standing in the community, we ultimately can’t achieve that goal.”

Turk said some activists had already been of the opinion that the program equated to government surveillance, but that what Turk called Trump’s “fixation on the American Muslim community” amplified that worry, making it clear that the president’s actions were more than campaign-trail rhetoric.

“It was becoming more and more apparent,” Turk said of Trump, “that he’s actually looking to carry out all the scary stuff he said.”

In many cases, the decision for a nonprofit to turning down grant is a difficult one, with some grey areas to argue over. Here, the decision may have been eased; accepting this large award could have rendered the organization illegitimate in the eyes of its core constituency.—Ruth McCambridge