Monday, January 18, 2010

Example Post

Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives by Van E

This op-ed piece from July 2008 addresses the Faith-Based and Community Initiatives program that the Bush Administration introduced in 2001. The author argues that although President Bush initially "spoke about the 'armies of compassion' that would help address some of the nation's social ills," the results have been "far less impressive." The author blames this on a lack of funding for the program, as well as the program being misused as a political tool to garner support from deeply religious voters. The author does not believe that the program needs to be scrapped entirely, however, just fine-tuned so that it is doing what it is supposed to be doing. The author believes that Barack Obama's plan for the program, one that will "depoliticize it and focus on a few goals, such as summer schools for inner city kids," offers the correct remedy for the program's shortcoming.

(Note: here's President Obama's announcement in February 2009 regarding his plan for faith-based initiatives.)

The problem with the author's argument is that it presumes the fact that the government should be able to give funding to religious organizations. The author asserts, "The key to success is in getting funding beyond politically connected large institutions to the small ones located in areas with the most need." The question that remains is, however, can the government provide funding to these faith-based organizations without violating the Establishment Clause?

There is certainly some legal precedent for the idea, based on Bradfield v. Roberts (1899). In Bradfield, the Supreme Court upheld legislation that provided federal funding to a hospital that was in religious in its origin. The Court advanced the argument that a law respecting a religious establishment is not necessarily one that establishes a religion, and that so long as the federal funding is still being used to fulfill a government function, it is acceptable. However, that argument is much easier to make and defend when one is talking about a hospital, which theoretically administers medical aid to anyone in a medical emergency, regardless of his or her religion or creed. This universal benefit to society that a hospital fulfills may not be the case with some of the programs that Barack Obama's plan wants to provide funding for.

As noted above, Obama's plan would "focus on a few goals, such as summer schools for inner city kids." Who is to say that these schools run by religious groups would necessarily offer the universal benefit to a society in the way that a hospital does? Even if the school is open to anyone of any religion on paper, in practice students of different faiths than the one practiced by the organization running the school may have a much more difficult time feeling welcome and accepted at these types of schools and programs. Many taxpayers would likely not want their taxes being used to support a program that does not fully welcome people of all religions, for they may feel coerced to contributing to such a faith-based organization in this manner. It seems that the precedent set by the Bradfield case is problematic when applied to this scenario and would only work if the religious institution that is receiving the government funding would set aside its religion while fulfilling the government's work.

This brings about another question: do these religious organizations really want that type of funding if it brings those restrictions? As the author of the op-ed writes, "This poses problems for religious organizations, as well, because taking taxpayer money means following secular rules." Quite simply, some of these religious groups may not be willing to give up their rights to preach their religion to those that they help just to receive this government funding. My own personal view on the matter is that government should leave those charities in the private sector in the private sector, and not risk violating the Establishment Clause just to provide those charities with a little more funding.

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