ACLU of Illinois Expresses Opposition to Creation of White House Office to Distribute Taxpayer Funds to Religious Organizations

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
January 29, 2001 12:00 am

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ACLU of Illinois
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CHICAGO--President Bush's creation of a White House office to fund religious organizations' participation in social service programs violates the U. S. Constitution's prohibition against government-sponsored religion and opens the door for tax-funded discrimination in the provision of desperately needed social services and employment.

The initiative threatens the religious liberty of taxpayers and people in need of social services, as well as compromising federal funding for legitimate, much-needed social services that benefit persons regardless of their religious beliefs.

The initiative also is based on a questionable premise; namely that religious denominations can put aside their fundamental mission to serve their particular faith when providing social services. This notion already has been disproved in the health care field, where faith based hospitals often deny patients access to contraception and other medically appropriate services, such as sterilization and fertility treatment, because of their own religious doctrine.

As currently proposed, the initiative would allow for taxpayer-funded discrimination in employment. Because religious organizations are exempt from many civil rights laws, they are allowed to discriminate on the basis on their religious beliefs and teachings about race, religion, sexual orientation, gender and pregnancy status. Under the initiative announced today, for example, a Catholic church receiving public funds for literacy programs could dismiss a teacher for becoming pregnant while single or an Orthodox Jewish synagogue that operated a food bank may refuse to hire non-Jews or women.

The proposal also allows religious groups to decide who gets priority for services and what services actually are provided. Organizations could condition receipt of taxpayer-funded, necessary social services on the expression of a particular religious viewpoint. This could well lead to discrimination against those most in need of help. A denomination, as an example, operating a local housing program could give preference to its own members rather than considering the more urgent need of those from outside. People in desperate need of housing might be faced with the untenable choice of either pledging allegiance to a religious viewpoint that is not their own or going without housing. This is not a choice government should encourage.

The numerous and diverse religious denominations of this nation have a proud tradition of providing social services to those most in need of assistance. These services have been provided for years out of a deep sense of responsibility, without any expectation of reimbursement from government. The federal government should not be in the position of selecting those denomination's social service work that is worthy of receiving public tax dollars. This initiative undoubtedly will result in a situation where politically powerful denominations receive tax dollars to the exclusion of minority denominations that may be equally committed to serving fellow citizens in need.

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