For more than 200 years, congregants have been responsible for the construction and repair of houses of worship. Now there’s a move afoot to shift some of that responsibility to taxpayers. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Congress is trying to rewrite federal rules to allow houses of worship to receive direct Federal Emergency Management Agency grants to pay for storm-related repairs.
The hurricane was devastating, but we mustn’t let that become an excuse to ignore basic constitutional principles. Church-state separation protects the right of taxpayers to support only the religious institutions of their choice, and it ensures the independence and integrity of faith communities. Houses of worship exist primarily to teach the tenets of their religion. They should be supported by donations, not government subsidies. Houses of worship should rely on private insurance and low-interest loans to meet their needs - not money taken from the taxpayer.
H.R. 592, the so-called Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013, has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives.
Womens’ rights advocate Sandra Fluke is calling the Obama administration’s compromise allowing religious institutions an exemption from the Affordable Care Act “another step” in the process of women having easier access to birth control. “It meets the important criteria of women having access to the health care that they need and not infringing on any potential religious concerns,” she told NewsNation’s Tamron Hall.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that employers who wish to be filed under the exception will now need to prove they are non-profits and that religion is a core component of their mission. This reduces the number of requirements employers must meet from four to one. Employees enrolled in these plans are eligible to receive coverage through “separate individual health insurance policies” that won’t increase their premiums.
Last year, Fluke, a recent Georgetown Law School graduate, was criticized by right-wing talk show hosts after she testified in front of House Democrats that health insurance plans should have a mandate to cover contraceptives.
Initial response to the proposal from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was quiet, but The Becket Fund For Religious Liberty released a statement saying:
“Today’s proposed rule does nothing to protect the religious freedom of millions of Americans. For instance, it does nothing to protect the rights of family businesses like Hobby Lobby. The administration obviously realizes that the HHS mandate puts constitutional rights at risk.”
Inside The Campaign for Gay Equality: How Activists Rewrote the Political Playbook and Finally Won Over Voters in 2012
At a speed that resembles nether a tortoise nor a hare, these efforts are less a race and more a construction project. Sound legal foundations are being dug and legal infrastructures are being set in place. Will there be delays along the way? To be sure. Legal challenges will have to be dealt with along with expected and inevitable issues with social acceptance.
For reasons dictated by vocabulary, religious groups often conflate marriage with matrimony. Because of that there is much confusion and unnecessary adversarial and confrontational relationships. Let’s look at the definitions fo some clarity.
Marriage is a legal contract which always supersedes religious dictate. In other words, the state recognizes the union of a couple regardless of religious affiliation. All marriages are treated equally by the state and by the law. In effect, the marriage is a contract between the couple and the state.
Matrimony is different in that there is a religious component to that union which the celebrants hold to be the primary aspect of their union. Once a state of matrimony is entered into, there is a by product of state recognized marriage.
In other words, marriage is the contract entered into between the couple and the state and matrimony adds a religious component to that union. For people of faith, it is that religious component which is primary in their union.
Why is gay marriage an important issue? Because all marriage is good for society. Stability, commitment are the bedrocks of our society. Marriage is a promise of fidelity. Marriage is promise to add a link to the chain of continuity of our culture and society. Anything which contributes to the stability 9f society is a good thing whether the couple is heterosexual or homosexual.
No one can or should force religious institutions to confer matrimonial status on same sex couples. There are religious institutions or clergy which will marry gay couples and there are those which won’t. That is their prerogative. We cannot force them to do so nor should we want to for any number of reasons. In the same we won’t tolerate the state endorsing a particular religion, we cannot dictate to religious groups what they can and cannot believe or do.
In the end, gay marriage is not about the law or wedding parties. It is about couples establishing a home, putting down roots, having or adopting children and contributing to society. It is about making a home and contributing to the betterment of our wives, husbands or partners. All very good things.
The Marriage Plot: Inside This Year’s Epic Campaign for Gay Equality: How Activists Rewrote the Political Playbook, Reversed Decades of Defeat, and Finally Won Over Voters in 2012. « Sigmund, Carl and Alfred
On May 9, President Obama sat for an interview in the White House with the ABC News anchor Robin Roberts. Both of them knew what she’d been summoned there to discuss, and Roberts didn’t waste any time. “So, Mr. President,” she said, “are you still opposed to same-sex marriage?”
Obama was ready for the question. A few days before, Vice President Biden had said on Meet the Press that he was “comfortable” with men marrying men and women marrying women. The surprise statement went against the president’s own ambiguous stance, which was that he was against gay marriage but in the process of “evolving.” At the same time, evidence of the political risk inherent in the issue was abundant. The day before, May 8, voters in North Carolina — a key swing state Obama narrowly won in 2008 — had overwhelmingly voted to ban gay unions, making it the 31st state to take such a step.
Obama sat back in his leather chair, his legs crossed, his hands in his lap, composed and a bit detached. “Well, you know, I have to tell you, as I’ve said, I’ve been going through an evolution on this issue,” he began, in his usual roundabout way. “I’ve always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally.” He pointed to his administration’s repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and its refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. He’d hesitated to embrace gay marriage, he said, out of respect for tradition and a belief that civil unions offered enough protection to same-sex partnerships.
But now the president had changed his mind. “I’ve just concluded that, for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” he said.
he reasons for Obama’s about-face, as he explained them, seemed perfectly normal. His thoughts, he said, had gone to his own staffers “who are in incredibly committed, monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together.” He’d thought about the troops, fighting on his behalf, yet still facing the constraint of not being “able to commit themselves in a marriage.” He talked about the values he wanted to pass on to his own children and the emphasis his own faith placed on the Golden Rule.
The first front in the war on science and education is the Discovery Institute’s attempts to wedge religion into science classes, the second is a war against public education period.
The GOP battle cry for red state public education is: “Privatize it!” This is how the GOP wants you to let their favorite flavors of religious institutions and private corporations receive tax dollars to provide sub standard education.
The GOP battle cry for red state public education is: “Privatize it!”There are some very large hogs snuffling around smelling for dollars outside that public education fence.
But people would be wrong to assume that the GOP is motivated solely by a hatred of big government. The GOP has shown itself time and again willing and able to use big government to push its agenda, particularly since 2010 with its crafting of historica numbers of anti-abortion legislation.
No, ironically, given the GOP’s vocal disdain of money as a solution, the secret motivator here is…money.
Privatization is the new Gold Rush. There is money to be made in them there hills. And charter schools are the the Republican hammer to be used to prise it out of our hands.
Georgia has a charter school amendment, which was pushed as a response to a dysfunctional public school system. The logic being, apparently, to replace rather than fix. In Louisiana, where Republicans control both chambers of legislature, Governor Bryant plans to push charter schools again in 2013. I’ve written previously about how Louisiana is banishing its students in that state to the Bronze Age. In both states, there have been cries from opponents of ‘re-segregation.’ The Arkansas Times reported in September on GOP plans to ‘end-run’ charter school restrictions.
If you look at a red state, chances are somebody is trying the pull the rug from under public education, or eddimication, as the mostest educated conservatives call it.
The Progressive reported back in May 2011, on how the Republican scheme functions, using Wisconsin as an example:
Governor Scott Walker’s unprecedented $900 million cut to school funding, coupled with a scheme to create a state-run system of charter schools, will kill off both the school and the town, they said. Under S.B. 22, the bill they came to oppose, students and funds that used to go to schools like Montello’s will be siphoned off to virtual charter schools run by a state board of political appointees.
As Ruth Conniff wrote at The Progressive, ‘K-12 education is the single largest budget item for each of the 50 states. So it stands to reason that privatizing education is the largest front in the conservative war on government.’
Privatizing, folks, is a Republican codeword for ‘profit.’ Who takes over when the government is not involved? It’s not charities. It’s for-profit entities. The people who will suddenly become middlemen for your tax dollars
Updated with the link
A First Amendment watchdog group is suing the Internal Revenue Service for failing to challenge the tax-exempt status of churches whose pastors engage in partisan politicking from the pulpit.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which advocates total separation of church and state, filed the lawsuit Wednesday (Nov. 14) in U.S. District Court in Western Wisconsin, where the 19,000-member organization is based.
The lawsuit claims that as many as 1,500 pastors engaged in ‘Pulpit Freedom Sunday’ on Sunday, Oct. 7, when pastors endorsed one or more candidates, which is a violation of IRS rules for non-profit organizations.
IRS rules state that organizations classified as 501 (c) (3) non-profits — a tax-exempt status most churches and other religious institutions claim — cannot participate or intervene in ‘any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any political candidate.’
The State Gambling Addiction: Politicians Are Bleeding Problem Gamblers to Fix Their Budgets—and It Isn’t Working.
In January, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced a bold plan to bring a $4 billion casino and conference center to Queens. But the plan fell apart within months, thanks to the reluctance of the state’s prospective partner, the Malaysian gambling company Genting, to undertake the massive investment without a guarantee that it would have the exclusive right to operate casinos in New York City.
New York is one of several states that don’t want to be left behind as their neighbors institute more and more varieties of gambling. At least 12 states, facing downturn-depleted coffers, have already expanded gambling efforts over the last three years—including Massachusetts, which became the 16th state to sanction casinos. But this approach is utterly misguided, since gambling has often disappointed as a fiscal tool and as an economic-development strategy. As legal gambling has spread, competition for limited dollars has intensified, and the new gambling enterprises seem merely to be siphoning money from elsewhere in the economy instead of generating new economic activity. “This is not an industry that creates wealth,” says Les Bernal, head of the Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation. “It’s an industry that transfers wealth.” And that’s before taking into account the documented social costs, including the disturbing fact that a significant part of gambling revenues comes from problem gamblers.
Gambling has been part of the American experience since the Founding. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, privately run lotteries, authorized by states, helped raise funds for everything from religious institutions to colleges. Harvard and Yale, for example, financed some new construction with lotteries. But as the practice grew more popular, fraud and other abuses increased, leading to a backlash. From the 1830s on, states began banning lotteries. The last state-sanctioned one ended in 1894, and the following year, Congress prohibited the interstate promotion of lotteries, making it tough to launch new ones.
Why vouchers? Because upper middle class conservatives want the failing religious schools where they warehouse their bratty children subsidized.
Advocates of private school vouchers often point to Wisconsin as a model. The state has had a voucher plan since the early 1990s. At first limited to secular private schools in the city of Milwaukee, the voucher scheme was later expanded to include religious institutions.
Other changes are more recent. A similar plan was set up in Racine, and in Milwaukee, income caps were raised, and suburban private schools were brought into the plan. The upshot of this is that a plan that was once described as an “experiment” to help low-income families in troubled areas of Milwaukee is now firmly entrenched and aiding middle-class families in the suburbs.
Who saw that coming?
Well, actually, Americans United did. Twenty-one years ago when the Wisconsin plan was proposed, we warned that it wouldn’t increase student performance, wouldn’t help the poor and would end up bailing out financially troubled religious schools.
No, we’re not psychic. Plain old common sense told us that the claims of voucher boosters were wildly exaggerated. On student performance, for example, the record is clear: Voucher students are doing no better than their public school counterparts, and in some cases are doing worse.
For anyone who spends time pondering the cost of keeping the lights on and the staff paid at their houses of worship, the Mormon tithing slip has a sort of utilitarian beauty.
Worshipers pick one up at their local chapel, fill it out and hand over their money to a lay leader (having annotated the amounts paid by check, currency or coins, per the instructions on the slip). No annual bill, no passing of the plate. Keep the canary-colored carbon copy for your records.
The fact that the slip looks a bit like something your dry cleaner might give you when you drop off your clothes is part of its appeal. After all, worship is a regular part of many people’s lives. We need to pay for it somehow.
But the how in this equation is something that has changed over time for many religions in the United States, from selling pews to the wealthy 100 years ago to electronically pulling money from people’s bank accounts more recently.
So as we approach a busy season for giving among believers, from the annual dues that Jews hand over each summer to the pledges that Episcopalians often make in the fall, this is a good time to ask whether we’ve settled on a form of collection that is both efficient and meaningful.
Whatever you may feel about the relative worth of tithing slips, the membership model or annual pledges, it’s clear that most religious institutions are at least a bit better at collecting money than they used to be.
Something is happening when it comes to religion in America.
Though more Americans go to church or believe in God than their counterparts in virtually every other Western country, fewer Americans now trust religious institutions. A recent Gallup poll showed that just 44 percent of Americans have a great deal of confidence in “the church or organized religion.”
It’s unclear if this is a permanent shift or just a sign of the times, but NPR’s religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty says it doesn’t mean that America is less religious.
“Although among young people, belief in God is declining,” Hagerty tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz. “But generally polls show that about 90 percent of Americans actually believe in God. So what’s happening here is a decline in the trust of religious organizations.”
People just don’t want to go to church as much as they used to, Hagerty says, and the societal pressures to go aren’t there anymore.
Essentially little difference between Bush and Obama guidelines.
On April 27, the Obama administration published its new guidelines for organizations receiving federal funds to provide services through faith-based initiatives. In an effort to increase transparency, according to the administration, the 50-page report details how organizations must separate their religious mission from their community service mission— certainly a worthy goal. However, the report contains little significant change to the church-government partnerships initiated by President George W. Bush that provide direct taxpayer funding to religious institutions. Some of these institutions, not surprisingly, have had some problems separating the community’s best interests from their own. One especially crucial issue, which President Obama himself recognized in Zainesville, Ohio, as a candidate in 2008, is the fact that these organizations are allowed to discriminate in the hiring process based on religion.
In his Zainesville speech, President Obama said, “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.” There you go, that’s a wrap, folks - taxpayer money is to promote general well-being and if he gets elected those funds aren’t going to be used to further one group’s specific causes over the other - right? Not quite. Three years later the President has not kept his promise. When he was pressed on the issue, by Amanda Knief of the Secular Coalition for America, the issue of hiring discrimination by faith-based groups had become “tricky” and the President had apparently decided that the status quo struck a good balance. Fast forward 9 months, and the Administration has now confirmed in its guidelines that hiring discrimination is acceptable, if religion is a core principal of your mission.