At any moment, state inspectors can step uninvited into one of the three child care centers that Ethel White runs in Auburn, Ala., to make sure they meet state requirements intended to ensure that the children are safe. There must be continuing training for the staff. Her nurseries must have two sinks, one exclusively for food preparation. All cabinets must have safety locks. Medications for the children must be kept under lock and key, and refrigerated.
The Rev. Ray Fuson of the Harvest Temple Church of God in Montgomery, Ala., does not have to worry about unannounced state inspections at the day care center his church runs. Alabama exempts church day care programs from state licensing requirements, which were tightened after almost a dozen children died in licensed and unlicensed day care centers in the state in two years.
The differences do not end there. As an employer, Ms. White must comply with the civil rights laws; if employees feel mistreated, they can take the center to court. Religious organizations, including Pastor Fuson’s, are protected by the courts from almost all lawsuits filed by their ministers or other religious staff members, no matter how unfairly those employees think they have been treated.
And if you are curious about how Ms. White’s nonprofit center uses its public grants and donations, read the financial statements she is required to file each year with the Internal Revenue Service. There are no I.R.S. reports from Harvest Temple. Federal law does not require churches to file them.
And they whine about a “war on Christianity.”
Henriques writes that some of the exemptions from taxes and regulations have existed since the beginning of the republic, but many more have been added over the past 15 years — more than 200 “special arrangements, protections or exemptions for religious groups or their adherents” since 1989.
As a result of these special breaks, religious organizations of all faiths stand in a position that American businesses — and the thousands of nonprofit groups without that “religious” label — can only envy. And the new breaks come at a time when many religious organizations are expanding into activities — from day care centers to funeral homes, from ice cream parlors to fitness clubs, from bookstores to broadcasters — that compete with these same businesses and nonprofit organizations.
But it gets better. According to today’s Boston Globe, under the Bush Administration our government has begun to sponsor Christian missionary work on foreign soil.
For decades, US policy has sought to avoid intermingling government programs and religious proselytizing. The aim is both to abide by the Constitution’s prohibition against a state religion and to ensure that aid recipients don’t forgo assistance because they don’t share the religion of the provider.
Since medical programs are aimed at the most serious illnesses — AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis — the decision whether to seek treatment can determine life or death.
But many of those restrictions were removed by Bush in a little-noticed series of executive orders — a policy change that cleared the way for religious groups to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars in additional government funding. It also helped change the message American aid workers bring to many corners of the world, from emphasizing religious neutrality to touting the healing powers of the Christian God.
Bush’s orders altered the longstanding practice that groups preach religion in one space and run government programs in another. The administration said religious organizations can conduct services in the same space as they hand out government aid, so long as the services don’t take place while the aid is being delivered. But the rule allows groups to schedule prayers immediately before or after dispensing taxpayer-funded aid.
Bush’s orders also reversed longstanding rules forbidding the use of government funds to pay for employees who are required to take an oath to one religion. In addition, the president’s orders allowed faith-based groups to keep religious symbols in places where they distribute taxpayer-funded aid.
And in implementing the president’s orders, the administration rejected efforts to require groups to inform beneficiaries that they don’t have to attend religious services to get the help they need. Instead of a requirement, groups are merely encouraged to make clear to recipients that they don’t have to participate in religious activities.
Bush made some of the changes by executive order only after failing to get Congress to approve them; the bill faltered in the Senate, where moderate Republicans joined Democrats in raising concerns about breaking down the barrier between government and religion.
Are we having fun yet?
… the faith-based initiative overseas is almost exclusively a Christian initiative: Only two Jewish development groups and two Muslim groups of any type got any grants or contracts between fiscal 2001 and fiscal 2005, and Christians received 98.3 percent of all such funds to religious groups from fiscal 2001 to fiscal 2005.
The prime beneficiaries have been large groups including Catholic Relief Services and evangelical organizations such as World Vision — the former employer of Bush’s longtime USAID director Andrew Natsios — and Samaritan’s Purse, which is led by evangelist Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, who guided Bush to his own religious rebirth.
Groups counted on to be GOP “values voters,” I believe. The Bushies are using bleeping foreign aid to funnel money to their constituents.
However, Howard Fineman reports in Newsweek that the faithful are restless.
A Pew Foundation survey found an 8-percentage-point drop in Republican preference among “frequent churchgoers.”
Long before the Foley e-mails surfaced, the gears were grinding in the faith-based machine that Ronald Reagan inspired and Karl Rove perfected. It has been 30 years since evangelical, “Bible-believing” Christians flocked into politics. Figures such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Charles Colson of the Prison Fellowship have enormous clout within the GOP; Rove is a phone pal of both. But a younger crop of grass-roots activists views the elders of the cultural right as accommodationists who have failed to press a social agenda aggressively, and who now balk at calling for the ouster of Speaker Denny Hastert. “They need to wake up!” said Jamie Johnson, a religious broadcaster in Iowa. “Heads have to roll! The older generation is satisfied with a seat at the table. We want to build a whole new table.”
If you missed it in the comments to an earlier post — here’s a good page on fundamentalism to bookmark for future reference.