Government, Grants and God….

Sunday seems an appropriate day to consider–once again– the relationship between God and government.

Propublica recently reported on an effort by constitutional lawyers that highlights the increasing conflict between this nation’s commitment to government neutrality in matters of religion and the demands of religious organizations for special accommodations.

The Obama administration has roundly criticized states such as North Carolina and Mississippi for passing laws that allow discrimination in the name of religious freedom. But at the same time, the administration has left in place a 2007 memo from the Bush White House that allows religious charities with federal contracts to discriminate in hiring for federally funded programs.

Now, as Obama prepares to leave office, a group of prominent constitutional lawyers is calling on the Obama White House to revoke the legal memo, which they argue has been used by religious groups to refuse to provide services, including emergency contraception for human trafficking victims, that conflict with their beliefs. Their arguments are detailed in a legal analysis published this morning by Columbia Law School’s Public Rights/Private Conscience Project, which includes contributions of scholars from George Washington, Emory and Brigham Young universities, among others.

A good deal of my research when I first entered academia centered on Bush’s so-called “Faith Based Initiative,” and his effort to contract with religious organizations for the provision of government services to the needy. (In fact, I co-wrote a very boring book on the subject.) There were a number of faulty assumptions that prompted the Initiative, and as the Propublica article explains, such partnerships frequently created conflicts between the organization’s religious mission and the government’s obligation to refrain from funding religious discrimination.

Bush administration lawyers wrote the memo after the Christian charity World Vision, which serves the poor in nearly 100 countries, objected to a nondiscrimination clause in a $1.5 million Department of Justice grant to fund a mentoring program for at-risk children. World Vision argued that it should be allowed to hire only Christian employees for the program and that not allowing the group to do so would put a “substantial burden” on it.

The Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution protects the right of religious congregations and certain other religious organizations to hire and fire on the basis of their doctrinal beliefs–when those organizations are spending their own money. 

Discriminating with taxpayer dollars received via a government contract is a different matter.

When a government agency is requesting proposals from for-profit, nonprofit or religious organizations to partner in the provision of services, it generally requires that the successful bidder agree to obey applicable laws, including civil rights laws forbidding discrimination.

Religious congregations or organizations can choose to bid on a contract or not; if the terms of the award are inconsistent with the organization’s religious beliefs, it need not participate. As a local pastor once put it: “with the government’s shekels come the government’s shackles.”

If you aren’t willing to play by the rules, don’t join the game.

It is unfair to exempt religious bidders from compliance with rules others must obey– in essence, to give such bidders special rights not enjoyed by others.

The lawyers calling on Obama to end such preferential treatment have both the Constitution and fundamental fairness on their side.


  1. The government should seek help from any source willing to provide help under any conditions the sources find acceptable. With the abysmal failures routinely observed in virtually every “charitable” effort of the government, the Fed needs any help it can get.

  2. Allowing religious organizations the right to impose their beliefs and rules on government contracts seems to have given them the audacity to sue our federal government for everything that doesn’t suit them or meet their religious standards. They have shamelessly decided that everyone else must abide by their rules and beliefs, and if not, there will be hell to pay!

    Ken, your statement tells the rest of us that you see no problem with mixing religion and government, even though that runs against the Constitution. Please give us a few examples of the “abysmal failures in charitable efforts of the Federal government. A list of those programs, along with facts regarding their failures would be appreciated.

  3. I don’t undrestand how the hiring of any qualified applicant rather than any qualified Christian applicant would put a burden on anyone, unless your mentoring program is specifically in religious education. The exemption should never have been granted in the first place.

    That being said, I can imagine the howls from the right wing if Obama does revoke the memo. My political side say, do it after the election.

  4. For those who would like to hear more from the religious left about this concern, the Indiana chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State has a free program on “God and Government” coming up on Friday, July 22, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Indiana Interchurch Center, 1100 W. 42nd St. The panelists are all clergy (Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Methodist, Muslim, Protestant).

  5. Religion could/should provide guidelines for living a productive life without denying anyone else their rights. It is when religion/God becomes an addiction and the enablers are our elected officials along with church leaders, that is becomes a dangerous problem for entire groups of people. Groups selected only by those elected officials and church leaders they deem unworthy of human and civil rights as provided and protected by the Constitution.

  6. What’s the problem? When a party collects money from a source, it has the fiduciary responsibility to use it in accordance with its rules when it uses that money. The government collects our money and has to use it in a way that is consistent with the Constitution. If it needs help to do a job, fine, but go beck to rule one. The way they spend it has to be consistent with the Constitution, not simply to do the job. The ends don’t justify the means.

  7. I don’t see any reason to spend ANY money with religious groups
    Cut them all off. And TAX THEM too Scams

  8. I think that rule 1 should be to help those who need the help in the most cost effective way possible. While I understand the nature of the legal predicament and would want this dilemma reviewed for any precedent setting problems that might expand discrimination my gut reaction is that rule 1 applies.

    I guess that gets down to specifics. If people are starving in the world, and a church group is in a unique position to feed some of them but will hire only Christians I’d vote for their survival as much as possible.

    The good Christian missionaries, and there were and are some, usually prioritized saving bodies over souls. That makes sense to me. If it requires Christian Faith to motivate the missionaries to perform their difficult, dangerous and uncomfortable work than so be it.

  9. Here’s the problem. Throughout American history community churches have done a lot of good and some bad (just like most institutions). Many changed to big businesses without letting go of the advantages of being considered churches. They are the ones that now do a lot of bad and some good.

    In the past we didn’t need a definition of what a church was but now we do so we can treat businesses as businesses and churches as churches.

    Sheila, I would suggest that this is a larger and more urgent legal/political need than what you wrote of today.

  10. Pete,

    Sheila, I would suggest that this is a larger and more urgent legal/political need than what you wrote of today.

    Read the DMagazine article and you will understand better how LARGE this problem is. The article was written 25 years ago. It might take 10 or 15 minutes of your time.

    This “extremist” movement within the Southern Baptist Convention has been dynamic +and in no way static since that time.

  11. Nancy. Let me give you just one. JFK asked the country to spend more to eliminate poverty rather than paying minimally to subsidize poverty. Good idea!! However, we have created a program that discourages working or marrying a baby daddy by reducing or eliminating benefits, spent $10-30 trillion on the program (depending on how you do the accounting), and seen welfare recipients double while poverty rate has remained constant. If that does not meet your definition of failure, I need your help to find an example.
    For the record, the only thing the Constitution attempts to do is with regard to religion is PREVENT the government from restricting the religious freedom of individuals. There is no mention of separation. If the Little Sisters of the poor want to help unwed mothers without welcoming abortion advocates, let them help the needy mothers and seek abortions elsewhere. Who is worse off in this scenario.

  12. Marv, I did read the article and it’s as good as any that I’ve read on the confusion that can be caused when people believe that their opinions carry the weight of fact to them.

    For critical thinking skeptics this is a small issue as it seems so apparent when it is true and can be readily dismissed as delusion.

    But we’re finding out that in this entertainment besotted world the proportion of critical thinking skeptics is declining to dangerously small levels.

    It could spell the end to democracy and therefore freedom.

    It’s too bad that Texit didn’t precede Brexit.

  13. Ken, think of how powerful your message would be if it contained solutions. Otherwise it is whining.

    Full employment is a function of business which they purposely fail at because having more competition for the jobs that they need to fill allows lower wages and benefits. Welfare is the cost that that business bequeaths to tax payers that results from this “good” business practice. They reap more profit and we subsidize them.

    Exactly as make more money regardless of the impact on others would predict.

  14. The churches that have become businesses mentioned above have as their product entertainment (delusion). They package fantasy and deliver it to otherwise under- occupied minds for profit.

    Someday there will be Oscars for preachers.

  15. Actually Texit did precede Brexit in our Civil War. One wonders some days if the fuss then was worth the cost.

    If we had just said ok to the Confederacy and built a big beautiful wall along the Mason Dixon Line our problems would have been solved.

  16. Pete,

    If we had just said ok to the Confederacy and built a big beautiful wall along the Mason Dixon Line our problems would have been solved.

    You could be right. Sometimes projects take longer for fruition.

  17. Good grief, there are poor people that work because their labor isn’t worth snot to the corporations. Trust me, the only reason that immigrants get jobs is because of the poor pay and working conditions. The “Walmart” corporations that have an accounting team can drum up tax breaks that us poor folks don’t qualify for. Those corporations are the true welfare queens. If you ever tried to get welfare, you’d know that they vet everyone to their last dime which is why there are so many that actually do qualify but get only pennies to survive. How about we tax the churches and the corporate welfare queens that are sucking the teet of government more so than anyone out there? Gaaaa, how many times does the Professor have to stress this before you ‘conservatives’ GET IT?

  18. I recalled Gold$mith launching the Front Porch Alliance here in Indianapolis. Here is an interesting link to an article:

    The article contained this wishful thinking on Gold$mith – The alliance was launched in 1997 by Stephen Goldsmith, who was Indianapolis’ mayor and is now Bush’s top domestic policy advisor, and who would likely be offered a cabinet position in a Bush administration. <<<

    I have always had a skeptical view point on the Government handing out grants to religious institutions. The Government should not be selecting a particular religious institution to serve the public. The water can get awful muddy when you do so and it smacks of patronage.

  19. Pete,

    “But we’re finding out that in this entertainment besotted world the proportion of critical thinking skeptics is declining to dangerously small levels.”

    “It could spell the end to democracy and therefore Freedom”

    What level do you think…….is it greater than one or two percent?

  20. Marv, well, of course it’s a spectrum not an absolute.

    I would guess though that democracy is functional, and therefore freedom is possible, up to when non- critical faith based believers can carry an election alone. Now the extremists cancel each other’s votes and the skeptics make the decisions more often than not.

    Of course Bush vs Gore was an exception but not in the popular vote.

    I will say however that I can picture the possibility of humanity having to give up freedom and require power to survive.

    It’s possible that climate change will require that.

    What a loss! But at least we’ll have our screens to entertain us.

    Just like “1984”.

  21. Pete,

    “What a loss! But at least we’ll have our screens to entertain us.”

    A few weeks ago, you mentioned a documentary in 25 or 30 years on the events of today. Since most everyone is addicted to the screen, how about a “living history” documentary on the machinations of the oligarchy and the dire consequences all of us will be facing from it in the very near future. I know it sounds impossible to make, but I’m not so sure it is. As you said, there still are intelligent critical thinking skeptics out there.

  22. Pete! Unlike you, I acknowledge that I do not know everything and therefore, do not know how to resolve the deficiencies in the current welfare system but at least avoid the insanity of continuing the same program and expecting a different outcome, but try this simplistic example. Suppose currently a person is eligible for $1000 per month in assistance. Depending on which welfare programs are being used, taking a job making $500 per month might cost this person most or all of his benefits. It does not seem that complicated to adjust the formula to make only some portion of the earnings to offset the benefits, say by 50%. That would mean working that job would decrease welfare benefits by $250 per month, but still improve his earnings by $250. Each subsequent raise of $100 would reduce dependency by $50 and enhance lifestyle by $50. Such a plan may not solve all problems, but at least the disincentive to work is eliminated for some recipients.

  23. Ken, your plan to improve the lives of welfare recipients and reduce the cost to taxpayers has good points. I do not know why such a system has never been put into place, as I believe that I have read or heard about the same scenario before.

    The problem that I see with it is that it is still a matter of subsidizing corporations who would rather make exhorbitant profits off of the backs of the taxpayers and the ‘slaves’ that work for them.

    The poverty threshold in this country has not increased over the years to match inflation. That is a serious issue, but I find that Republicans are the ones who are most against taking care of the poor. Also, I believe the percent of Americans living in poverty has actually increased since 2007 and the subsequent increase in the rates of unemployment and underemployment.

    My personal opinion is that we need to enact a minimum wage that is high enough to enable people to meet a basic standard of living from their employment. The cry from the Right that this will eliminate jobs just doesn’t settle well with me. If people are given a wage that enables them to pay their bills they will be spending all of their earnings, which in turn will circulate more money and create more demand for products and services – therefore creating additional jobs, not fewer.

    Our current system of subsidizing the corporate welfare queens must end. If businesses are unable to compete in the market and stay open, then they were not really needed anyway. However, those businesses that provide exhorbitant salaries to C-suite executives and Board members will stay in business. They just won’t be able to rape the taxpayers while enslaving their employees. They won’t shut down their businesses. They will just be very angry that their personal bank accounts will not be bulging at the seams in the future.

  24. When an American corporation takes their jobs to another country (and this should be retroactive) our government should apply an import tariff to their products that is so high that no one will be able to afford their products. Once this starts happening, either new businesses will open up in our country to make those products that were once made here or the companies that moved jobs oversead will choose to bring those jobs back.

  25. Ken, save your snarkiness and snide remarks for some other blog. Your haughty is showing.

    BSH, tonight’s 5 PM news: the family of Pat Head Summitt (UT women’s head basketball coach for 38 years and 1,098 wins) is asking for thoughts and prayers as Pat’s Alzheimer’s is worsening. She was and is a champion!

  26. There is nothing I can add to Sheila’s conclusion. She set the table and served the meal. Neutrality means (Surprise! Surprise!) neutrality and when the public’s money is involved, who is employed in spending it, however noble the enterprise, is subject to civil employment laws.

  27. Betty, thanks for the information re: Pat Head Summitt. I read the articles. Too sad to talk about.

  28. The best comment on this post: “Someday there will be Oscars for preachers.” Thx Pete – you made my day!

  29. Nancy, re: “corporate welfare”. Carrier Corp not only erased 1400 jobs in Indianapolis and another 700 in Huntington , but also they received a most generous subsidy in the form of a $5.1 million stimulus-funded tax credit in 2013 from the U.S. Department of Energy — for the sole purpose of creating and maintaining green jobs in the United States.

    “In this instance, Carrier Corp. is betraying the program’s aim of keeping green jobs in the United States,” says Philip Mattera, research director at Good Jobs First, a nonprofit tracking subsidies.

    From the Dept of Energy webpage, “With the support of $5.1 million in the Green Energy Program tax credits, Carrier Corporation will expand production at its Indianapolis facility to meet increasing demand for its eco-friendly condensing gas furnace product line. The new line includes the most energy efficient gas furnaces on the market – all with at least 95 percent annual fuel utilization efficiency.”

    The Dept of Energy and the Treasury Dept included no ‘clawback’ provisions that would enable the federal government to recoup the tax credits if these green energy jobs ended up being sent offshore.

    So much for glowing and exaggerated predictions made in 2013, “Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz then claimed that the tax credits would “create new jobs and supply more clean-energy projects in the United States and abroad with equipment made in America.” And Senator Joe Donnelly (D., Ind.) said, “The tax credits will help these companies invest further in more good-paying manufacturing jobs right here in Indiana.”

    “Carrier Corp.’s decision to shutter its manufacturing operation on Indianapolis’ west side will cause a domino effect that will wipe out more than 2,700 jobs across Indiana and cost the state’s economy more than $100 million a year,” according to Jerry Conover, director of the Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.

  30. BSH: We should boycott products from the Carrier corp. In addition, the tax abatements and other financial incentives must stop. Corporate executives have proven to us that they have no intention to hold up their end of the bargain. The hard working employees gave Carrier a phenominal profit last year, only to be told that their jobs cost too much. Back in the ’70s when Milton Freidman told Board members that stockholders were all they needed to be concerned with is when job security and pay rates started going south.

  31. Ken, I have no idea if, where and when your suggestion has been tried and what the results have been. It’s eminently sensible under the right conditions though.

    As I understand it most welfare currently is aid to dependent children. That’s another sensible approach except that unfortunately much of the need comes from unmarried households where childcare costs can and usually do exceed well above minimum wage.

    In a perfect world everyone would be a motivated and skilled worker, business would have good paying jobs for everyone, affordable child care would’ve readily available and all households with children would be in stable long term commitments.

    Until we can bring that about we’re pretty much stuck in the real world which is much messier.

    Some folks dream that if we just eliminated welfare everyone would start behaving as in the perfect world. I don’t know though of any experience that verifies that. I personally think that it would be more likely that it would descend into the chaos we hear about so much from countries that don’t have the resources to use our approach.

    In the big picture our welfare expenditures are pretty small and are probably cheaper than the cost of the chaos that would ensue without them. There are lots of success stories from our system as well as lots of failures. Lots of people are working hard for more successes and fewer failures.

    I don’t think that I’m in a very good position to second guess them.

  32. Pete,

    “Some folks dream that if we just eliminated welfare everyone would start behaving as in the perfect world. I don’t know though of any experience that verifies that. I personally think that it would be more likely that it would descend into the chaos we hear about so much from countries that don’t have the resources to use our approach.”

    I’m with you 110% on this one. As far as my dream about a “living history” documentary, it is too late for that. Ken isn’t the only one who dreams and eventually has to wake up.

  33. Okay, so there are problems with any strategy intended to improve situations. I thought liberals were all revved up for change. Pete doesn’t think welfare programs are very expensive. Is there a problem if a better program also happens to cost less? Betty, as for snarky, I’m not clear about what you considered snarky. I loathe corporate welfare. I loathe government waste. I loathe anyone who thinks giving someone a hand-out is helping them. I have expanded the old adage: “If you want to feed the poor for a day, give them a fish. If you want to feed them for a lifetime, teach them to fish. If you want to feed them forever, teach them to teach.”

  34. Man, I hope you never lose your job, your retirement funds or you sense of dignity Ken. good grief.

  35. Ken, you don’t really mean the government should fund all religious charities including Muslim, Hindu, Satanism, etc.? Or do you really mean it should only fund your brand of Christianity?

  36. Ken;
    your statement is indicative of a lack of world history.

    don’t you think they knew that when they passed it?

    Substitute Ind Chap of Amer United etc etc to a more readable KKK

    Morals should provide guidance, not religion.

    Fiduciary Responsibility? Look here: I’ve got this bridge in the City…..

    There are ogrs that do that today: Medics sans Frontieres, etc .

    First thing JC condemned and only thing physically, the org rel of the day. I think he termed his reasons more succinctly ,a word well chosen, than any contemporary journalist I can think of.

Comments are closed.