CHICAGO - Reaching out to evangelical voters, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is announcing plans to expand President Bush's program steering federal social service dollars to religious groups and — in a move sure to cause controversy — support some ability to hire and fire based on faith.People were quick to point out that Obama did not technically say this; what he is saying is this:
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.Now, that's pleasing to the ear, so why am I not pleased? Well, it seems to me there's a pretty large loophole in that sentence. I can't use grant money to proselytize, and I can't use grant money to discriminate. If you can manage to do these without spending a dime, well, I suppose you're okay. I think we can all agree that there are evangelicals out there that will exploit this loophole. After all, the root of that word is "evangelize," or, convert to Christianity.
My argument in comments in my post yesterday was that this is completely pointless unless there is a way to police this discrimination. It would be time consuming, expensive, and next to impossible to do this on an individual basis. In addition, should discrimination charges come up, I have next to no faith, pardon the word choice, that it will be effectively prosecuted. How many churches with national exposure have lost their tax-exempt status for playing politics, after all?
But, to be fair, this is a speech, and isn't written policy. So we'll see what happens. Also, to be fair, I'm glad to hear that federal dollars will only go to secular programs, and that there will be some kind of accountability for successful programs, just like traditional social service organizations. Again, it would be nice to hear how this actually will be done, but I'll try to be a little patient.
Anyway, this post isn't about religious discrimination.
Part of the reason I'm so upset is because of the reaction of many on the left to Obama's speech. Apparently, once Obama stated he was going to "hold up the Constitution," everything was A-OK, and we could go on about our lives. At Salon:
There's simply nothing wrong with this. If Obama honors church-state separation and keeps the safeguards in place, as he clearly said he would, there's no reason the government can't partner with ministries willing to provide a secular social service.Well, actually, there's plenty wrong with this, but I'll get to that in a minute. I'm just gobsmacked by that final sentence. "Phew! I thought I might actually have to think critically about Obama for a minute, but now that I'm assured everything's OK, I can get back to cheering HOPE and CHANGE!" It's that outright dismissal without thought once one is assured that Obama couldn't possibly be in the wrong that really sticks in my craw.
That said, that AP feed really got me nervous there for a minute...
It always struck me that the problem with Bush’s approach to faith-based initiatives was that he viewed their purpose as paying churches to proselytize, rather than viewing them as partners in government-led action. Obama’s plan actually follows the more moderate path that Ohio’s FBCI took after years of Taft’s office funnelling money who knows where - looking at faith-based organizations (note: organizations, not just churches) as potential partners the same way you would other nonprofit organizations, rather than looking to simply pay churches for being churches.Actually, looking at the comments, this appears to be a pretty popular position. I'm not saying that Jesse is wrong about how he feels, but as I remember it, the discrimination was not the problem when Bush initially began his FBO push.
The critical part is also the fact that agencies which accept federal funds must abide by federal hiring guidelines in the use of said funds - a necessary compromise unless the government wants to step into the process of hiring denominational clergy . The other benefit is that the lack of ability to discriminate using federal funds will likely push out many of the fundamentalist organizations that made the initial faith-based initiatives so problematic.
Ah, well, I know this probably isn’t the most popular position. Fire away.
The problem most on the left had concerned money being directed from traditional, non-religious social service organizations to FBO's. The problem was with the separation of church and state. The ability to discriminate wasn't a huge concern until people did some digging and began reporting.
So, needless to say, I find it a little distressing that people are so willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt as long as he's "upholding the constitution," when there is a very big problem with FBO's. As I said; there's plenty wrong. They are intrinsically discriminatory against LGBTQ people.*
Now, I'm not saying that all FBO's are homophobic. Many FBO's and churches are tolerant of, supportive of, or even openly embrace LGBTQ folks. (And many of these FBO's provide good services.) But that does not change the fact that by their very nature, they are creating a barrier to help for LGBTQ people.
I speak from several years experience working in LGBTQ service organizations, and LGBTQ-friendly FBO's. Due to a, shall we say, less than amicable history between LGBTQ people and religion, the majority of LGBTQ people are simply not comfortable with receiving services from a FBO. Therefore, they will travel incredible distances to receive their services from a non-religious, LGBTQ-friendly organization to ensure they are in a safe space; in a worst-case scenario, they simply go without services and suffer.
Some examples, just from my experience:
• When I was working in the LGBTQ health center pharmacy, trans people would travel for hours to come there to meet with their doctor, and receive their hormones from the pharmacy. Hostile reactions in their home pharmacies caused them to seek out a safe space, regardless of cost or inconvenience (can you imagine traveling three hours to pick up a prescription?). In general, the trans people traveling this far were coming from rural areas, where most, if not all, services were FBOs. These were, to them, not a safe space.
• Nearly 100% of the trans people coming to this health center for mental health services, particularly the youth, were receiving services there due to hostile reactions from other mental health providers, or fear of hostile reactions. Again, many of these people were traveling great distances in order to escape the FBOs in their areas and receive non-judgemental mental health services from a safe space. Imagine driving five hours to see your therapist every week. One client did this.
• I worked at a FB residential home for homeless people with HIV. This particular residence had a large population of gay men. The reason for this is that the senior staff was made up of gay men, and they were not receiving the same discriminatory, homophobic (and in some cases, violent) treatment that they experienced at other residential homes. They all stated that, should the senior staff change, they wouldn't hesitate to find other places to live that were not FB. (Interestingly, the gay men's support group at this house originally met in the chapel. They eventually moved to the only other available room in the house, a cramped conference room much too small for this large group, because they were extremely uncomfortable in the chapel.)
• Nearly every person I met for assessment or individual therapy had some sort of negative relationship with religion. One client, for example, had grown up gay in a rural area. He had been raised in a very religious family, where he would hear every week in church that he was evil, corrupt, and was going straight to Hell. He was consumed with self-hatred and internalized homophobia as a result, not to mention a severe substance abuse problem that he was having difficulty controlling, due to his extreme negative reaction to "religious" twelve-step programs. Fortunately, he lived in a city with an LBGTQ mental health center that he could use (and that would accept him without any medical insurance), but if a FBO was his only choice, what would he do?
I could go on and on; I'm sure you get my point. The fact of the matter is that the majority of LGBTQ persons would rather go without help than go to a FBO. When Obama states that he is going to pour more money into these organizations, but does not plan to increase funds to non FBO social services, he is doing a disservice to LGBTQ persons. As Melissa said yesterday:
Not every faith-based program is explicitly (or at all) anti-gay or anti-birth control, but that's a pretty big question mark when you're seeking services. This is particularly problematic for trans women and men, especially those who don't easily "pass." LGBTQs risk facing real hostility at faith-based service centers, especially in faith-based programs that service men and women separately.This is why people that call themselves progressives/liberals should not simply accept Obama's plan as long as he's "upholding the constitution." This will cause harm. You will note that, in comments at Pandagon and in the comments thread in my post from yesterday, the discrimination of LGBTQ persons by FBO's was brought up by Pam Spaulding and Melissa. And they received no response. This cannot be ignored or forgotten, especially by progressives; this is not simply a case of being discriminated against due to religious beliefs. This is, once again, the neglecting of LGBTQ Americans. And there's simply everything wrong with that.
In other words, one of the most at-risk populations for addiction, depression, homelessness, and suicide face significant deterrents to seeking help from faith-based programs.
That's not going to change under Obama, nor would it under anyone else. It's an inherent problem with faith-based programs, which is why the government's involvement with them is crap. Period.
Barack Obama expanding Bush's Faith-Based Program is not something we should be cheering.
*(This could, of course, apply also to women seeking to control reproduction, or to Athiests, Pagans, Wiccans, etc. If a FBO is your only choice, what will you do? And Obama specifies that he will (somehow) ensure that no one is discriminated against on the basis of their religion. Discrimination against women and LGBTQ folks appears to still be acceptable. Or, at the very least, they'll look the other way.)