The use of government funds or resources to support religious institutions or promote religious ideology is a violation of every American taxpayers’ First Amendment Rights.
As a diverse and secular nation, it is improper and unconstitutional for the government to direct taxpayer money to programs and institutions that discriminate on the basis of religion. Despite this principle, federal and state grants are still often made available to religious organizations that discriminate or impose their beliefs on others.
Adoption and Foster Care Services
Faith-based adoption providers that receive taxpayer fundings have an obligation to act in the best interest of the children and the community they serve. When such providers are allowed discriminate against clients on the basis of religion, it is taxpayer-funded discrimination. Several state legislatures have passed laws that legalize religiously-based discrimination for adoption providers and similar legislation has been introduced in other state legislatures. Under these laws, adoption providers could refuse to adopt a child to a same-sex, atheist, or interfaith couple, even if that couple is otherwise qualified to provide a safe, loving home.
School Voucher Programs
Some school voucher programs violate the separation of church and state by funneling taxpayer money from public schools to private religious schools. Religious schools are exempt from transparency requirements and crucial civil rights laws that protect minority faiths, nontheists, students with disabilities, and LGBT students. Parents should be free to send their children to receive a religious education, but not at the taxpayer’s expense.
Office of Faith-Based Initiatives and Neighborhood Partnerships
In 2001, President Bush issued an Executive Order creating the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives and Neighborhood Partnerships which distributed federal grants to religious nonprofits that provide social services. In 2007, the Bush administration released a memo which asserted that religious nonprofits could discriminate when providing services because of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The Secular Coalition for America has joined LGBT organizations, religious groups, and civil rights advocacy organizations in calling for Obama administration to disavow the 2007 memo and holding religious nonprofits accountable.
Using public funds to support religiously-based discrimination violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution and the civil rights of those individuals being denied access to government services. The Secular Coalition for America supports protecting equal rights and the separation of church and state by ensuring that government money is only made available to programs and institutions that provide religiously-neutral services without discrimination.
Washington, D.C. - Today, the Secular Coalition for America (SCA), in partnership with 18 of its member organizations, sent a letter to the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, requesting action on the secular community's policy priorities during the first 100 days of the Biden administration.
The Secular Coalition for America is requesting President Biden take the following actions among others, within the first 100 days of his administration. These requests reflect the Secular Coalition for America’s comprehensive Secular Agenda, which was publicly released last November.
- Issue an Executive Order on Religious Freedom instructing all executive departments and agencies to protect freedom of conscience and religion by protecting the separation of religion and government, prohibiting discrimination based on religious belief or lack thereof, and prohibiting government funding of inherently religious activities.
- Issue a Justice Department memorandum instructing all executive agencies to protect freedom of conscience and religion by protecting the separation of religion and government, prohibiting discrimination based on religious belief or the lack thereof, and prohibiting government funding of inherently religious activities.
- Stipulate in the Presidential Budget that federal funds cannot be used to support inherently religious activities; the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) cannot be used to allow discrimination in budgeted programs; and it requests reports from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to ensure that federal agency resources for grants, cooperative agreements, and other assistance is not used to discriminate
- Express support for the passage of the Do No Harm Act, which would amend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to ensure it cannot be weaponized to cause harm or erode civil rights.
The letter also contained a request for a meeting between the Office and the secular community to discuss these requests and how our community may support the administration’s efforts, continuing a precedent set by the Obama administration which met with the Secular Coalition for America in February, 2010 and again in 2013.
The White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships currently serves as an important liaison between the secular community and the administration, and displays significantly greater potential for partnerships than it did under previous administrations.
In the official “Fact Sheet” that accompanied the Executive Order which established the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the Biden White House committed to embracing religious pluralism, including the secular community, and upholding the separation of religion and government.
“When Methodists and Muslims, Buddhists and Baptists, Sikhs and Secular Humanists serve together, we strengthen one another and we strengthen America.” - The Biden-Harris White House
The Fact Sheet went on to explicitly state that the office will not prefer one faith over another or favor religious over secular organizations. A practice that unfortunately was adopted by previous administrations. Rather, the current Office “will work with every willing partner to promote the common good, including those who have differences with the Administration.”
The Secular Coalition for America understands the many reservations towards the office held by those in the secular community but based on already established working relations with staff it is optimistic that the inclusive rhetoric found above will translate into meaningful actions that will greatly benefit the mission of the coalition.
“The language provided by the White House is without a doubt, the most inclusive language towards secular and nontheist Americans that has ever come out of a presidential administration. This is the result of decades long work by nontheist Americans, including many in our coalition. We are immensely proud of that work and are optimistic about the opportunities that lie ahead. I am excited for our coalition to partner with the Biden administration to help strengthen and protect the secular character of our government.” - Debbie Allen, Executive Director, Secular Coalition for America