Action Alert: Tell Obama to Reform the Faith Based Initiative Program

Twelve Months, Two Words.

On July 1, 2008 Barack Obama promised to abide by "a few basic principles" that would protect the constitutional separation of church and state in his plan for an expanded faith based initiative program. He was specific: "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."

On February 5, 2009 President Obama issued his Executive Order establishing his Faith Based Initiative program.  Twelve months later at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama claimed that his administration had "turned the faith-based initiative around" from its misuse during the Bush administration. But it appears the only thing President Obama has changed about how millions of federal dollars are spent is that the office guiding the direct funding of houses of worship is now called  the "White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships" rather than the "Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives."           Twelve months, Two words. That's not a turn around, it's a re-branding.

Take Action Now: Tell President Obama to honor his commitment to reforming the Faith Based Initiative Program

The Secular Coalition for America has called for reform and oversight of the Office and the agencies that it oversees for years. Government reports and hearings have documented the constitutional problems and gross abuses rampant in this program, but a year later all Americans continue to have their federal dollars used for government-condoned religious discrimination, while reforms to prohibit proselytizing in these purportedly secular social service programs have still not been enacted. 

The President can keep his commitment with the stroke of a pen. Congress does not need to pass a law to make these changes a reality, it simply requires an Executive Order issued by the President. 

America’s Founding Fathers strongly believed in a clear separation between church and state. They gave us a Constitution that forbids government to support or oppose any religion, leaving Americans free to follow their own consciences when it comes to matters of faith. In the words of the First Amendment, government shall make “no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”

Churches and other houses of worship are free to spread their beliefs. But they are expected to raise their own funds through the voluntary contributions of the faithful. Taxation to support religion and religious endeavors was forbidden under the Founders’ constitutional framework. No American should be compelled through taxation to subsidize any religion. Twelve months, Two words.

Below is the text that the Secular Coalition sent to President Barack Obama:

Dear President Obama,

I was encouraged by your July 1, 2008 promise to end proselytizing and religious discrimination in federally funded social service programs. However, it has been 365 days since your executive order establishing the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and the promised changes from Bush-era policies have not been fulfilled. 

It is discouraging to know that my tax dollars are going directly to houses of worship where there is little oversight to ensure that these funds will not be used for sectarian activities, particularly now, given our country’s economic problems.

Moreover, I am disappointed that you have not done more to ensure that faith-based program recipients are not subject to government-funded proselytizing or religious activities or to guarantee that secular alternatives to social services provided by houses of worship and other religious institutions are readily available.

For the millions of American nontheists like myself who are frustrated by stories of government-condoned religious discrimination, I ask you to keep true to your pledge and restore the constitutionally-required safeguards governing partnerships between government and religiously-affiliated institutions that existed for most of American history. 

Sincerely,

Secular Coalition for America

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