Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Church and State

From the Washington Post:

Obama's Faith-Based Reform By E. J. Dionne Jr. 7/4/08
Barack Obama keeps trying to end the wars over culture and religion, and good for him. The 1960s are so 40 years ago. But Obama's opponents, as well as some of his friends, won't let him do it.......

The outline Obama offered Tuesday suggests that he wants to learn from President Bush's failures in this area, not simply reject an idea because it has Bush's name on it.

And give Obama points for acknowledging how hard it is to find the right balance between avoiding excessive entanglement of government with religion on the one hand and respecting the identity of religious charities on the other. "Some of these questions are difficult," he said in an interview, "and I don't have them all worked out." ......

Bush's effort was plagued by a liberal-conservative battle over hiring discrimination within faith-based programs, particularly on the question of sexual orientation. Obama would keep the religious exemption from federal civil rights laws for congregations but apply them to specific programs sponsored by the congregations that accepted federal money. There is no federal law against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. But there are some local laws, and Obama says that religious groups taking federal funds would have to abide by these......

How close should church be to state? Can faith-based partnerships with the government ever work, or should there be a bright line between them?



John-Julian, OJN said...

Well, it sounds to me like a Democratic sop to the Religious Right -- and I'm sorry to see those sops popping up here and there as Obama veers to center to gain votes.

toujoursdan said...

In Canada is there no official separation of church and state. The government works through faith based charities and may even fund religious based schools. But faith based charities have to conform to government standards, including the human rights code. So Catholic schools must teach the provincial curriculum and charities must follow the human rights code; they can't discriminate or promote their faith as part of their community service.

It mostly works but then religion isn't as polarized in Canada as the U.S. and evangelicals, who have the most trouble with this, are pretty thin on the ground (at least in my neck of the woods.)

Anonymous said...

If the religious entity - associated service provider accepts money from federal gov't, it should be obliged to hire without preference for religion, race, gender, disability, etc (we aren't in the list yet...) - in other words, it should be regarded as subject to the same rules as every other federal contractor. No discrimination in hiring, no discrimination in services, no proselytization by employees of the service provider, no requirement that clients partake in religious activities. If the priest next door wants to be available as a chaplain and keep office hours for the clients, fine - he/she isn't being paid by the gov't. If individual employees want to have religious jewelry, icons at their desk, or other personal item, fine.

The provider must be subject to the same level of inspections and quality control and outcomes review as other providers of the same services.

This was essentially the state of things back in the pre-Bush days.

I would add, funding should be done via a granting process, with requirements for outcomes review (# meals served to homeless; for post-prison rehab, # clients, % clients placed with job, length of time in job - you get the picture).

This nonsense of continuing to fund approaches that have been shown to be failures ("abstinence education") needs to stop.


Wormwood's Doxy said...

For the last eight years (note, people---that is pre-Bush), I worked with a Federal program that recruited minority faith leaders into the fight against HIV/AIDS.

I have seen a group of very conservative African American pastors' wives author a no-holds barred manual on HIV prevention (supported by Federal technical assistance) for the people in their communities. The president of that organization told me that they had planned to do something on preventing heart disease, but when they got together to discuss health disparities in their congregations, they found they were burying more people from AIDS than from heart disease.

I have seen the Salvation Army--the nation's largest private provider of social services to the poor---commit itself to a fact-based, large-scale employee education program on HIV (again, with Federal technical assistance...if not actual dollars transferred). They did it because they serve the groups that are at greatest risk. Every day, they help thousands of people who are living with (or affected by) HIV/AIDS. I know of several communities where they have used Federal grants to build housing for homeless families who are dealing with AIDS.

I even saw the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops--which had never worked with the Feds on HIV/AIDS before--raise the subject of HIV prevention on a national scale as a result of their involvement with my office. Did they mention condoms? No. But they DID address stigma and discrimination---and they were very vocal in their support for HIV testing initiatives that get people into care and treatment.

In the communities hardest hit by HIV/AIDS, faith leaders are often the only trusted sources of information and help. In my view, government (and that means US--not George Bush or Republicans/Democrats), has an obligation to do WHATEVER it takes to help the most vulnerable in our society. We have to reach people where they are.

Of course we have to have safeguards. But I have seen faith-based initiatives that work. To suggest otherwise is to willfully disregard the evidence.

(P.S. That program was ultimately killed by the Republicans, BTW. The ultimate irony...)

FranIAm said...

I just read a post where someone, well intended I can assure you, tried to defend some of the faith based work.

She is an attorney in TX and watched funds dry up under a certain governor (ahem) and then churches started stepping in, so I guess the govt did less and there you had it.

My issues are this- one is that the government funding to faith based groups gives a legitimacy that is not appropriate.

In the past, if you chose freely to go to a Catholic, TEC, Baptist or whatever group for help - you knew what you were in for.

Now you go somewhere and you then FIND OUT the hard way who is helping you and what they demand.

Not so good.

I also loathe the ongoing individualization theory that sprung up in the Regan years, that whole pull-yourself-up-by-your bootstrap business.

The govt funding the faith based works feeds all the nice comfortable people, many of whom are Christian, who do not feel any social or moral obligation to help at large, but only through their churches.

Whatever happened to that quaint notion once known as democracy?

Scott Hankins said...


I will never forget the day (somtime in the late '80s) when we buried a member of my support group (the first in southeastern connecticut). The pain when I spoke the truth to them about how he died!! He was African-American. And I told the truth to them.

Another such member of the group later became a store-front evangelist. So healthy. I don't know what happened to him, but whatever it was, the last time I saw him, he had a beautiful set of new teeth. And he was preaching the Gospel.

That was 1986-92.

About the same time, a member of our vestry asked me where all those people were (he apparently had expected that it would bring some profit to the parish). I just looked at him, stunned and dumbfounded.

Who cares where the money comes from. It doesn't take a penny to love our neighbors as ourselves. Just do it.

Pam said...

I do not believe that government money should go to faith-based organizations. In this country we do have a separation between Church and State. Tax money should be used for the common good and should never demand any religious test.

Many Faith-based organizations have done marvelous work. In the after-math of Katrina, they were the most effective organizations on the ground. We, as individual citizens, should support them in their work. BUT, the fact that these organizations functioned better than the government does not mean that the government should turn over its responsibilities to them. The Government must get better at providing for its people.

I suspect that I have a bit of a bias against some Faith-based organizations because of the experience of my Mother. As a child in the early twentieth century,her family were poor, working immigrants. The church ladies would offer them their cast-offs . . . if they were thankful enough. My Mother always felt guilty that she had kept some of these items from getting to her family because she told these pillars that her family did not need their discards. I want people to receive aid because it is their due as Americans not because they have shown themselves to be "deserving poor."

Cany said...

Two words: Bright line.

it said...

Now, interesting. Doxy points out examples where some sorts of federal funding can help, and NancyP brings up grants. Others are more bright line.

I confess, I have mixed feelings. I would hate to do a baby and bathwater thing: the seed money from the examples that Doxy notes made a difference, though as your token atheist, I tend to recoil violently from any "faith based" anything.

Is there something worth saving and how do we do it, if so?


Anonymous said...

I am all for professionalism and for best practices based on good quality data. If a religious organization wishes to set up a service-providing organization that meets the standards of care as determined without religious doctrinal considerations, and shows that it doesn't discriminate in service provision or in hiring, then that service provider should be allowed to compete for federal contracts. No exclusion and no favors. If the religious service-providing organization believes it cannot provide certain services to certain classes of individuals for doctrinal reasons, they should not be allowed to compete for contracts involving provision of the services.

Examples: Catholic hospital or clinic contracting with government to provide comprehensive basic reproductive health services yet not providing contraception or referral for abortion services. Catholic Charities contracting with government to provide adoption services, and refusing to place children with gay families, in those jurisdictions where gays are allowed to adopt.

The religious organisations should be allowed to enforce doctrine on their own dime in their own 100% privately funded organisation. The government has no interest in regulating the content of religious doctrine and practice that does not break laws of general applications. No human sacrifice, even if the neo-Aztecs claim the sun god needs one. The religions may discriminate as they will, although it is appropriate to withdraw tax exemptions for religious organizations not directly and solely involved in provision of worship, doctrinal study, or religious counseling (see Bob Jones Univ. legal cases in its segregation days) or organizations engaged in incitement of "hate crimes" or serious threats (eg, white supremacist fringe groups, Christian Identity being the largest one).


JCF said...

Two other words: mixed feelings.

Remember, wingnuts can do wing-nutty things EVEN when they're working for the (allegedly) Godless Gov't: they have for the last 8 years anyway!

1) Do No Harm
2) Do Good
3) Fund Do-ers of 1&2, w/o regards to whether they call themselves religious or not.

Now, whether such a mythical bird actually exists... (maybe in Canada ;-/)

Ack, make Word Verification GO AWAY!

Wormwood's Doxy said...

I agree with everything Nancy P said.

As I noted, in my line of work (HIV prevention), you have to work with the people who have the power to make a difference. If you don't, you are actually condemning people--almost all of whom are poor minorities--to death or a life of chronic illness.

You have to bear in mind that the groups at highest risk of HIV have excellent reasons to fear and distrust "the government" (Tuskegee, anyone?). If you leave all HIV prevention, testing, and treatment work to the government because you don't like faith-based organizations doing it, you have already stacked the deck against the people who most need help.

And I also agree with JCF. Do we have to have that awful word verification thing? My eyes are aging and it's a major PITA.


IT said...

David H. is adamant about the word thing. Hey, at least we did away with mandatory sign-ins!

Re. the topic at hand, I think that the bright line can be drawn around the groups getting federal funds but Doxy's arguments really resonate with me.


Ann said...

TEC's immigration resettling program could not exist without federal funding. If faith groups sign up for "my" tax money - I want them to guarantee the rights of workers - non-discrimination and health insurance.

David said...

Ack, make Word Verification GO AWAY!

Sorry folks, but as much as it pains me (Doxy ain't the only one with "aging eyes" ;) I want to keep this.

It prevents spam bots from filling up our comment threads with ads for Viagra, cheap mortgages, cut-rate breast augmentation, and the like.

And I don't think IT and I have extra time to be policing the comment threads for ads to delete ;)

Mike in Texas said...

David, my suggestion would be to see what happens without verification for a set period of time, perhaps 2 weeks, in order to determine if the problem is as bad as you think it might be.

In my experience with 2 blogs over the last several years, I've had hardly any of this problem; less than 10 spam messages, maybe even less than 5. They were all on a blog using Blogger commenting. None of them have been on another blog using HaloScan for comments.


Mike in Texas said...

One more thing ... HaloScan has a feature that makes checking messages VERY easy. You don't have to go into each comment section separately. It gives you all the comments, newest first, for checking.