June 25, 2007

Supreme Court Upholds Federally Supported Discrimination

In one of several rulings by the U. S. Supreme Court today, the Court refused to strike down the Bush administration's bone tossed to their religious right supporters, officially known as the Faith-Based Initiatives.

The Court, voting 5-4 against a suit brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (it's a bad situation when a Christian is rooting for a group of athiests and agnostics), did not rule on the merits of the suit. Instead, they invoked a technicality, claiming private citizens could not challenge this particular type of funding action because it was taken by the Executive Branch. I'm not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV, but it seems that this will serve to validate and encourage the Bush administration's efforts to consolidate power in the White House, one of the few things they've proven to be quite good at.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation objected to government conferences in which administration officials encourage religious charities to apply for federal grants.

With the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, President Bush says he wants to level the playing field. Religious charities and secular charities should compete for government money on an equal footing.

Of course, Bush and his religious right cohorts want nothing of the kind. They want a playing field tilted toward their side, and the Faith-Based Initiatives are just that. In fiscal 2005, $2.1 billion was awarded through this plan, allowing (primarily right-wing fundamentalist) religious organizations to use funds without having to comply with federal regulations about discrimination toward their employees or those people who are supposed to benefit from the funds.

If a Catholic church is running a soup kitchen and wants to only hire practicing Catholics, or they don't want to serve homosexuals, or whatever rules they want to set up, I may disagree with their practice but I support their right, as a private organization, to hire or help whoever they see fit.

Where I take major exception is when my tax dollars support discriminatory policies, and I don't have a say on whether these organizations get any federal funding or not. I don't want any of my money to swell the coffers of groups that will preach ideas I don't believe in and exclude people I love.

The religious right, however, knows better than us all. They believe they know who is "deserving" of help and that it is perfectly allright to offer service with a string attached, like giving people an opportunity to convert them to their particular version of faith. They also believe that, with this enlightenment, they have earned a right to this financial support and should not be held accountable for how they use it or the quality of services they provide.

In his excellent book "Piety and Politics," the Reverend Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, quotes studies that show not only do these faith-based groups not provide superior services, there are numerous examples of sub-standard performance.

So who benefits the most?

The religious right groups that receive the majority of the money.

Who is watching to make sure they don't use any of these funds for, let's say, anti-gay campaigns?

Not the federal government, that's for sure. They just write the checks.

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