Government funding for religious-affiliated organizations
In 2001, President Bush promoted ‘faith-based initiatives’ to combat an array of social ills. The involvement of religious institutions in efforts against poverty, homelessness, hunger, addiction, child abuse, juvenile delinquency, and various other social problems is not new. Thousands of years ago the Levitical Code called for a jubilee year to combat oppressive debt. Charity is one of the five pillars of Islam. And even the Christian apostles called upon their followers to “share everything in common” and to support the widows and children. Both in Hinduism and Buddhism, succor for the needy produces good karma, and in most religions it is strongly encouraged to give help where help is needed.
However, President Bush was not encouraging religions to help the helpless. He wanted the Federal government to fund religious institutions to do this work. It is not charity in the strictest sense because many religious organizations involved in social programs are not raising the funds on their own for this work because it comes from the Federal government.
Even televangelist Pat Robertson had concerns about the Faith-based initiatives program back when President Bush proposed it:
Herein lies the problem with government-assisted, faith-based charity. If government provides funding to the thousands of faith-based institutions but, under a tortured definition of separation of church and state, demands in return that those institutions give up their unique religious activities, then not only the effectiveness of these institutions but possibly their very raison d'être may be lost.
Robertson explained that faith-based programs such as drug addiction recovery, prison reform, and inner-city educations programs were effective because they converted clients to Christianity. In addition, Robertson worried that government grants might be awarded to non-Christian groups. He writes,
The same government grants given to Catholics, Protestants, and Jews must also be given to the Hare Krishnas, the Church of Scientology, or Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, no matter that some may use brainwashing techniques, or that the founder of one claims to be the messiah and another that he was Buddha reincarnated.
Under the proposed Faith-Based Initiative, all must receive taxpayer funds if they provide effective service to the poor. In my mind, this creates an intolerable situation.
Robertson reveals that the real mission of faith-based social programs is conversion – not improving the lot of the poor. He calls it “a tortured definition of the separation of church and state” for someone to suggest that requiring an addict or a homeless child or a prisoner to be indoctrinated in order to receive services is wrong. Of course Robertson himself sees the wrong in such an indoctrination when he worries about social services being provided by non-Christians who naturally, “use brainwashing techniques” or are false religions.
In addition, the institutions that received these funds and carry out the social programs are not operating at a loss or even at cost. In other words, religious institutions are making money off of this arrangement with the Federal government. The Catholic Church received over $650 million dollars in Federal grants from the Obama administration’s stimulus packages and they receive about $80 million per year for their social work. Catholic clergy and nuns earn salaries from these grants as they administer and work in these programs. Other Christian organizations also hire their own for their faith-based social programs. These are people who are not necessarily particularly qualified for the work they are doing, but who get to do it because the organization would rather employ their own. People who might be more qualified do not get these jobs because they do not share the organization’s religious views, moral views, or political views.
For example, World Vision, an evangelical Christian organization that proselytizes as it fights poverty in developing nations, fired employees who were otherwise competent for not sharing the exact same views about Jesus as the founders of World Vision. World Vision has about1,200 employees and receives about $344 million in Federal grants. When the employees sued World Vision, the Justice Department said that World Vision’s practices did not preclude it from receiving grant money and in 2010 the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. Thus, as it now stands, faith-based organizations that receive government grants may discriminate against their employees, a federal crime for non-religious organizations.
Even before President Bush’s 2001 Faith-based initiative a string of lawsuits challenged Federal funding of charitable work by religious institutions. But it wasn’t until 2007 in Hein vs. The Freedom From Religion Foundation that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of continued Federal funding of religiously-affiliated charitable institutions even when those institutions violate Federal law. Here is how the Pew Foundation for Religion and Public Life summarized the case:
In Hein, the high court ruled that unless a legislative body has directly authorized such funding, citizens do not have the right as taxpayers to bring a suit in federal court alleging that the funding violates the Establishment Clause. Although the Hein decision was limited to the narrow issue of when taxpayers have legal standing to pursue Establishment Clause challenges, the ruling has much broader policy implications because it permits executive agencies to fund religious organizations and activities without fear of constitutional litigation.
The implications of this decision are too numerous to cover in this short essay. Suffice it to say it raises questions about whether or not a religiously-affiliated institution receiving government assistance may do the following: 1) refuse to hire or to fire a gay employee, a divorced employee, an employee who has had an abortion, an employee who uses birth control, an employee who is sexually active but not married, an adulterous employee, an employee who does regularly attend services or tithe, an employee married to a non-believer or someone of a different religious faith, an employee who is not actively raising his or her children in the faith, and an employee whose political affiliations are deemed contrary to the institutions interests. 2) refuse to accept students or dismiss students whose parents fit into any the categories listed in #1, 3) refuse to provide services to persons in category #1, 4) refuse to provide services contrary to their religious beliefs such as providing birth control, abortion, rape counseling, abuse counseling, divorce counseling, and shelters for abused women and children, or 5) preach for or against particular beliefs, behaviors, or legislation to the recipients of their services.
Catholic Charities in Massachusetts closed its adoption services in 2006 because it refused to comply with a Massachusetts law that recognized gay marriage. Kudos to Massachusetts for not allowing a religious exemption, but shame on Catholic Charities for abandoning their role as one of the primary adoption agencies in the state because of their homophobia. For the same reason, Catholic Charities in Illinois shut down adoption services at the end of 2011 after their claim of ‘religious discrimination’ was dismissed by the courts. In other words, the Catholic Church in Illinois claimed it was being discriminated against because the state mandated it provide adoptions to all taxpayers. Because they were not allowed to discriminate against homosexual couples, the Church felt it was being discriminated against.
In a separate case, religious institutions against birth control and sterilization have pushed back against the Department of Health and Human Services injunction that all health care providers make these standard services. Again the Catholic Church is at the forefront of this issue, claiming a religious exemption from this policy. University of Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins publicly requested Notre Dame be exempted from the contraception, arguing,
"The regulation would compel Notre Dame to pay for contraception and sterilization in violation of the Church's social teaching, or to discontinue employee and student healthcare plans, in violation of the Church's social teaching, thus putting us in an impossible position."
Fund your own bigotry.