Tag Archives: faith-based initiatives

President Obama Takes First Positive Steps In Reforming Faith-Based Initiatives

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Official Seal for the Executive Office of the President of the United StatesThis week, the Obama administration took the first positive steps to reform faith-based initiatives within the government. These initial reforms go a long way to protecting the wall of separation between church and state and protecting the religious freedoms of the faith-based groups and the beneficiaries who use the services. I am hoping more reform is coming.
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Romney – Ryan Bad For Churches

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image of a churchIn his speech at the Republican National Convention, Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan brought out the old trope about depending on churches and other faith charities to take care of the needy so he and Romney can gut the social safety net like food stamps and medicare. His idea, the common conservative wet dream, would actually be very bad for churches and other faith based charities who are already strained by the result of the economic meltdown of 2008 and the slow recovery.
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Obama moves away from religious favoritism but fails to remove discriminatory rules

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During the campaign President Barack Obama promised to change how the federal government gave money to religious groups. While he did change the title of the office created under President Bush, he has yet to remove the rules and regulations that allowed religious groups to discriminate when getting federal grant money.

It is no secret that some of groups that provide social services in the country were founded and operated by religious groups. It is part of their ministry to run charities. In some cases these charities receive tax dollars to pay for those operations. Before President Bush created the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, those religious groups who wanted federal money had to apply like all charities and be subject to the same rules against discrimination. In the case of religion, programs operated by religious groups weren’t allowed to proselytize to clients.

President Bush changed that. He relaxed rules on religious groups and even allowed tax dollars to pay for construction and renovation of buildings used for worship.

President Obama changed the title of the office to Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and we in the secular community thought that was a huge start, short of doing away with the office all together. However, it seems Obama has yet to rescind the Bush era rules that made the office such a bad idea in the first place.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today expressed disappointment that President Barack Obama’s “faith-based” initiative is being rolled out without repeal of Bush-era policies that violate civil rights and civil liberties.

Obama issued an executive order today (Feburary 5th) appointing Joshua DuBois as executive director of the White House faith-based office and setting up an advisory council on faith-based and other issues.

President George W. Bush’s faith-based initiative allowed religious groups that accept tax funding to engage in discriminatory hiring and celebrated faith-based groups that proselytize. Today’s Obama action leaves the Bush executive orders in place including one that specifically authorizes religion-based employment discrimination in publicly funded programs.

Americans United Says President Obama’s ‘Faith-Based’ Program Lacks Adequate Constitutional Safeguards

As of the date of this post, President Obama hasn’t made the changes yet. Americans United are asking for people to contact the President and demand the changes.

White House Religious Office Wins on Technicality

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The first court challenge to President Bush’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives ended on a technicality according to the US Supreme Court. It said that since the funding wasn’t from Congress then the public have no standing to challenge it. The case is named Hein v. Freedom from Religion.

The OFBCI was created by executive order in 2001, shortly after President Bush took office. Its Web site says it was designed to ensure that “private and charitable community groups, including religious ones, should have the fullest opportunity permitted by law to compete on a level playing field in the field of providing social services.”

A year earlier, the Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a federal lawsuit challenging OFBCI’s spending authority. Money for the office does not come from a direct congressional expenditure, but from the White House’s general “discretionary” fund.

Court permits White House outreach to religious charities

That was the excuse the court used to avoid the issue.

Alito said since Congress did not specifically authorize how the White House should fund its “day-to-day activities,” such expenditures were subject only to the executive’s discretion.

Taxpayers, he said, “set out a parade of horribles that they claim could occur” by allowing such faith-based funding to continue, suggesting the federal government could build a national house of worship, or buy Jewish Stars of David and distribute them to public employees.

“Of course none of these things has happened,” said Alito, and “in the unlikely event that any of these executive actions did take place, Congress could quickly step in.”

Would they really? Most of the same congress that fell over themselves to recite the pledge of allegiance under God when the 9th Circuit court ruled that “under god” in the pledge was unconstitutional in 2002 or the same Congress that agreed to create a national park to preserve a Christian cross in 2006?

The same Congress that caved to a President with only a 28% approval rating over a so-called time table for bringing our men and women back from Iraq?

Uh…. okay…. whatever you say Alito.

Americans United had this to say:

“This is a disappointing decision that blocks the courthouse door for Americans with legitimate church-state grievances,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Taxpayers should be allowed to challenge public funding of religion, whether the money is allocated by Congress or the White House.”

Supreme Court Ruling Blocks Courthouse Door For Some ‘Faith-Based’ Lawsuits, Says Americans United

NoGodBlog said:

Folks, this is very bad news. It gives immunity to the President to break the law (it’s not breaking the law anymore) by simply choosing to give money to religious institutions, but not secular ones. This case may change everything. We can’t stop the huge gush of tax money going to churches, we don’t even have the right to sue.

FFRF Loses major case in Supreme Court

Read the decision: Hein v. Freedom from Religion (2007)

Republicans play religious conservatives

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One of the main complaints coming from supporters of the separation of church and state was the Bush administrations support for faith-based initiatives. The initiatives were a series of laws, rule changes, and government funding for church based social programs. A recent media report and a book to be published on Monday put a spot light on the special status religion enjoys within the federal government and how faith-based initiatives were used as a political ploy by the White House.

Supporters of real religious liberty have always charged that such government entanglement with religion was a political ploy and a violation of the 1st amendment.

Charitable choice originated with then-Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.) during the drafting of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. The concept altered existing law to permit taxpayer-financed social service funding of houses of worship in a few welfare programs.
This approach represented a radical change. In the past, government sometimes contracted with organizations such as Catholic Charities or United Jewish Communities to provide services, but safeguards were kept in place to protect the rights of the disadvantaged, the integrity of the groups and the interests of taxpayers. Houses of worship did not contract directly with the government; rather, religious institutions created separate entities to deal with public funds and did not incorporate religion into the publicly funded program.
Charitable choice removed many of those safeguards. As a result, families in need could face unwanted pressure to participate in religious exercises at facilities funded by the government. The policy also permitted groups to discriminate in hiring on religious grounds, even for positions completely paid for by taxpayer dollars.
Charitable choice became part of the welfare law in 1996, but the federal government was hesitant to implement the policy due to constitutional concerns. Moreover, only a handful of states have altered their programs to allow for government funding of religious ministries.
The ‘Faith-Based’ Initiative

This past week the New York Times published a series on the money and special exemptions that religious groups have enjoyed as religious conservatives came to control more of the domestic agenda of this country:

It reported on October 8th, that since 1989, religious groups have received over 200 special arrangements, protections or exemptions in Congressional legislation, on topics from pensions to immigration to land use and allowing exemptions to Federal employment discrimination laws. These special arrangements have also come from winning court decisions and federal agency rule changes. 98% of the special treatment goes to Christian groups.

“As a result of these special breaks, religious organizations of all faiths stand in a position that American businesses — and the thousands of nonprofit groups without that “religious” label — can only envy.”
Religion Trumps Regulation As Legal Exemptions Grow 10/08/2006 Front Page

Then on Monday October 16th a book will be released by the former deputy director of the administration’s office of faith-based initiatives that tells of the behind back mocking of religious conservatives by White House staffers while using the office to energize the religious conservatives to vote for Republicans.

The former official also writes that the White House office of faith-based initiatives, which Bush promoted as a nonpolitical effort to support religious social-service organizations, was told to host pre-election events designed to mobilize religious voters who would most likely favor Republican candidates.
The assertions by David Kuo, a top official in the faith-based initiatives program, have rattled Republican strategists already struggling to persuade evangelical voters to turn out this fall for the GOP.
White House strategists “knew ‘the nuts’ were politically invaluable, but that was the extent of their usefulness,” Kuo writes, according to the cable channel MSNBC, which obtained an advance copy.
“Sadly, the political affairs folks complained most often and most loudly about how boorish many politically involved Christians were…. National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person and then were dismissed behind their backs and described as ‘ridiculous’ and ‘out of control.’ ”
Book: Bush Aides Called Evangelicals ‘Nuts’

Kuo isn’t the first official to tell all. John J. DiIulio Jr., the first director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, resigned after seven months with some of the same complaints Kuo makes.

There are no surprises in these two pieces of news. The GOP has always used religious conservatives for political gain since the days of Ronald Reagan and every time the evangelicals fall for it then whine when they find out they got played.

See also:

The Note’s faith-based defense of the Bush administration