Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Rev. Barry Lynn Discusses 'Faith-Based' Initiatives

All presidential candidates could benefit from listening to the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

UPDATE: Check out Barry's post "Do We Really Need A 'Faith-Based' Initiative?" at The Huffington Post.


FranIAm said...

I heart Barry Lynn. Very much.

Oh this is so troubling, so very troubling.

Interestingly enough, Obama (can't find the link right now) had formed some kind of Catholic advisory board... with liberal Catholics like Tim Kaine, Kathleen Sibelius and Bob Casey(the most conservative of the three, hardly a liberal although a Dem)at the forefront.

Well that bloviating blowhard of blowhard Bill O'Donohue of the Catholic League showed up, guns blazing.

And suddenly the shift away from the RC vote and to the Evangelical.

The evangelicals are a better pipeline to the Catholic right than what Obama had planned.

The whole thing makes me sick.

Sick sick sick.

mwb said...

Indeed. Senator Obama is not filling me with hope here.

Government should not be involved in Religion or religious oriented charities.

Anonymous said...

Saw it and was pleased that Countdown had Lynn on. He's so clear about things and I hope that he got through to viewers.

I love how he debunks the conventional "wisdom" on separation issues.

Infidel753 said...

We're in for another round of WORM (What Obama Really Meant), I see. No on taxpayer funding of discrimination, but yes on taxpayer funding of programs that discriminate. Glad that's cleared up.

This is really another argument for voting for McCain. At least if a Republican President pushes this kind of stuff, a heavily Democratic Congress might try to stop it. If it's a Democratic President pushing it, who knows?

John J. said...

Infidel, did you pay attention to Obama's plan, or what you expected to hear of it? Obama's plan calls for explicit, and audited, restrictions on proselytizing and hiring practices. Enforcing it is going to be the trick, and that is what Olberman and Lynn were highlighting, but this is going to be a much more open program with much bolder lines between what can and can't be done - something that has been sorely lacking in this president's policy and, as far as I can tell, is more than Clinton did during his presidency and interactions with these groups.

BAC said...

John - let me provide a brief background on 'faith-based' initiatives. In 1996 Pres. Bill Clinton signed into law a welfare reform bill that included an amendment by then-Sen. John Ashcroft allowing for "charitable choice" provisions. Pres. Clinton, in his signing statement, said he did not believe the charitable choice provision was Constitutional, and therefore he did not act on it.

As I mentioned above, his pandering to people who were never going to vote for him anyway (by signing the bill) -- while hurting the people who probably would vote for him -- was much worse, in my opinion, than having sex in the Oval office. But I digress ...

When Pres. Bush came into office he made the 'faith-based' initiatives a center piece of his administration -- but groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State successfully lobbied Congress to prevent any legislation from passing. Frustrated at not being able to get anything passed into law, Bush launched the program through an Executive Order (which could easily be reversed by the next president).

Before the change in the law in 1996, houses of worship could apply for federal block grant money to provide services -- BUT, they had to set up a separate 501(c)(3) organization which meant the money would not be deposited directly into the church bank account. They had to promise not to proselytize and they were required to comply with non-discrimination laws.

Groups like Catholic Charities, Lutheran Services, and others, have operated this way for decades -- without challenge from groups like Americans United. The programs were accountable and therefore deemed Constitutional.

Once the welfare reform bill became law all those safeguards were removed.

What Barry Lynn is suggesting to Sen. Obama is that instead of continuing a TERRIBLE plan initiated by George Bush, he simply scrap the department and return to the pre-1996 way of doing things.

My expansion on what Barry has said is that should Obama become our next president, and the Democrats have control of Congress, he should ask them to remove the "charitable choice" language from the welfare reform law completely -- and REALLY take us back to pre-1996.


Dean Wormer said...

I'm fairly certain we already subsidize religious institutions through their tax exemptions.

How about we repeal the tax exemptions before we begin even considering giving money to churches?

Because as it is I feel like they're getting me both ways AND screwing the constitution.

Infidel753 said...

How about we repeal the tax exemptions before we begin even considering giving money to churches?

That's a good idea. Tax religious institutions just like any other kind of institution.

It would get the government out of the business of deciding what is or is not a legitimate religion (for tax purposes), and it would end the practice of cloaking political or shady activities in religious guise to avoid taxes.

John J. said...

It appears the AP mischaraterised Obama in his speech and this has been perpetuated all over. He is not planning on just funneling more money to religious groups; he wants to completely gut and reform the office into a general (religious and secular cooperating) social reform organization. RCP has the transcript:

"I'm not saying that faith-based groups are an alternative to government or secular nonprofits. And I'm not saying that they're somehow better at lifting people up. What I'm saying is that we all have to work together.

"[W]hat we saw was that the Office [of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives] never fulfilled its promise. Support for social services to the poor and the needy have been consistently underfunded. Rather than promoting the cause of all faith-based organizations, former officials in the Office have described how it was used to promote partisan interests. . . . [So instead of the current program,] I'll establish a new Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

"Now, make no mistake, as someone who used to teach constitutional law, I believe deeply in the separation of church and state, but I don't believe this partnership will endanger that idea - so long as we follow a few basic principles. First, if you get a federal grant, you can't use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can't discriminate against them - or against the people you hire - on the basis of their religion. Second, federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples, and mosques can only be used on secular programs. And we'll also ensure that taxpayer dollars only go to those programs that actually work.

"I will empower the nonprofit religious and community groups that do understand how this process works to train the thousands of groups that don't. We'll "train the trainers" by giving larger faith-based partners like Catholic Charities and Lutheran Services and secular nonprofits like Public/Private Ventures the support they need to help other groups build and run effective programs."

(emphasis mine)

I believe that this is everything Rev. Lynn listed except for removing that clause of the welfare reform bill. That last is not the pervue of the president; the president can only veto new legislation and act (or not) on current legislation.

BAC said...

Dean and Infidel - I don't necessarily disagree with you, but with regard to the discussion at hand the next president could abolish the office of faith-based initiatives within minutes of taking office. Accomplishing what you propose would be much more difficult.

And please consider that groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State are also tax exempt. What I would suggest is that instead of taking away completely a religious institutions tax exempt status that the scope of it be diminished. For example, currently EVERYTHING they do is tax exempt, regardless of whether it has anything to do with their religious or community services. Some faith groups buy huge tracks of land, and reap the tax exempt benefits. Why not simply exempt the house of worship itself, the expenses directly related to operation and maintenance, and charitable works. I could live with that. If they want to purchase other property, engage in any sort of business, let that be taxed.

And John ... John ... John - clearly you have not been paying attention. I work for the organization that spent most of yesterday trying to explain to the media how the AP got the story wrong. Barry acknowledged the portion of Obama's plan that would be an improvement over the way Bush has managed the office -- but the bottom line is that Barry suggested Obama would be better served by simply closing down the office and letting things go back to the way they were before 1996.

And just to be clear -- Barry didn't make the suggestion about removing "charitable choice" language from the current law, that was my idea. And you are not naive enough to think that a president can't have influence over what comes before Congress. We have been able to dodge the bullet during Bush's administration by convincing moderate Republicans that taxpayer funded discrimination would be a very bad idea. That's why we don't currently have 'faith-based' initiative language in any legislation.

But, as you know, the president has been able to get a whole host of things on his agenda passed by Congress. If presidents had no influence we could forget about the current two candidates and focus all our attention on electing more progressives to Congress.


Dean Wormer said...


I was only half serious on the tax-exemptions. I think we forget that religious organizations and other groups as you point out are already subsidized in a sense.

I agree that the office of faith-based initiatives should simply be abolished.