Sean Faircloth briefing to White House Officials on Faith-Based Initiatives

Sean FairclothTestimony to the Obama Administration, February 26, 2010

Presented by Sean Faircloth, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America

A group called Teen Challenge receives our tax money under faith based initiatives.  They use government funds while discriminating against non-Christians, and have referred to Jewish converts to Christianity under their proselytizing as completed Jews, implying others Jews are incomplete.

The Indiana Family Institute used its taxpayer-funded grant to hire a fundraiser and upgrade its website, which advocated amending Indiana’s constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage.

Instances such as these raise serious constitutional questions. A well-known Constitutional Law professor from the University of Chicago said in Zanesville, Ohio, and I quote: 

“First, if you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize … and you can’t discriminate…on the basis of their religion. Second, federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples, and mosques can only be used on secular programs.”

Despite these words, President Obama’s own admirable words, his administration still lets fester a Bush-era violation of the separation of church and state regarding discrimination and proselytizing.

This administration has said discrimination in so-called “faith-based” initiatives would be decided case by case.  Dr. King believed that justice, that civil rights, is decided by uniform law that applies to ALL Americans equally, not case by case.

We oppose any funding for religious organizations, a position espoused by the Father of the Constitution, James Madison. And we call on the administration to take heed of what was done in every administration until recent years and refrain from this unconstitutional practice altogether.  If the administration chooses the path of James Madison, then we have no further questions.

Failing that, with the stroke of a pen, President Obama can make his own noble words regarding discrimination and proselytizing a reality.  We have faith that President Obama will keep his word.  But the current lack of follow-through to date leads to five questions on five topics:

First: since no congressional vote is required to implement the President’s own pledge, why has the president not fulfilled his very commendable promise to prohibit proselytizing and discrimination?

Second: the faith advisory council recently called for a requirement that faith-based organizations form separate 501c3s.  We applaud that recommendation.  What would stop the Administration from adopting this requirement immediately?

Third: The council also recommended sunshine laws, so there is full transparency as to which faith organizations get our tax money and how much.  We know top notch secular groups like Carefirst had their funding decreased under faith-based initiatives.  It is unconscionable that citizens do not have easy access to exact faith-based funding numbers.  Why would the administration allow this information to be withheld from the public any longer?

Fourth: Every day federal funds are distributed to faith-based social service providers who are NOT required to give notice to consumers of secular alternatives. Why aren't consumers guaranteed notice of and access to alternative secular providers?

Fifth: Georgetown Professor Jacques Berlinerblau has stated there is “some duplicity in the way the administration describes some members of the 25 person advisory board” -- because the administration has referred to alleged secular members of the commission.  We will not use the term duplicity, but the complete lack of secular Americans on the board is a serious and glaring lack of diversity.  Will the administration name an avowed secular American to serve on the council? 

We greatly appreciate this forum, and respectfully request an answer to each of these five questions.

Justice requires that we, who represent millions of secular Americans, be included – directly included -- in ongoing policy debates throughout the course of this administration.

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