You might remember that one of the Bush Administration’s big ideas was to find ways to funnel tax money to religious, or “faith-based,” organizations. Most of us recognized this as a way to cement the loyalty of the Religious Right. We lefties grumbled when our tax dollars went to programs like the “silver ring thing” and to churches promoting a right-wing political agenda. But neither did we riot in the streets about it, although perhaps we should have.
The argument behind giving tax dollars to “faith-based” organizations was that the money was supposed to be used for charitable and other initiatives that would benefit entire communities, and that this money was to be kept separate from the organization’s religious activities. This ignores the reality that proselytism is woven into the fabric of most Christian charity work, but no one was supposed to notice that.
So, holding that thought, Reuters reports that someone in the New York City comptroller’s office said that Park51 might be eligible to receive tax-free bonds to help pay for construction of the cultural center. The center would have to repay the bonds, which would be issued through a local development corporation created for the purpose. Reuters continues,
The mosque’s backers hope to raise a total of $70 million in tax-exempt debt to build the center, according to the New York Times. Tax laws allow such funding for religiously affiliated non-profits if they can prove the facility will benefit the general public and their religious activities are funded separately.
I’m sure you can imagine the tantrum-throwing that story touched off. “Iâ€™m sure the ACLU and Islamist-loving Lefturds will be outraged by this violation of separation of church and stateâ€¦” wailed one blogger.
So let’s talk about that. Whenever tax money is given to any religious organization, I say there needs to be lots and lots of transparency and many, many strings attached to it. Right now a lot of religious groups are protesting the Obama Administration’s policy of prohibiting religious groups from religious discrimination in employment if they receive federal funds. From OMB Watch (posted 8/26/10):
Faith based organizations have always served their communities, providing a wide range of services, what continues to make the issue contentious is that some religious groups want to base their hiring policies on the religion one practices, effectively using tax payer funds to selectively discriminate. Yesterday leaders from over 100 religious organizations sent a press release urging Congress against tampering with what they call “freedom of religion”, contending that pending legislation would deny religious charities receiving federal grants their fundamental right to hire people who share their faith. The groups recent activity appears to be aimed at a provision in legislation to reauthorize the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration H.R. 5466, that would prohibit them from receiving federal money if they consider a job applicants religion when hiring.
But if these groups are using the funds to run a completely religion-free program, then it shouldn’t matter what faith their employees follow, should it? This is a good policy that should help keep these charities honest about keeping religion out of taxpayer-funded programs.
(BTW, I learned today that over a 20-year period, $1.5 billion in federal money was flushed away in abstinence-only sex ed programs that didn’t work. There is other data showing that the Bush Administration’s faith-based programs didn’t have the promised effect of providing more social services to communities. It mostly all fizzled out.)
Anyway, by the same token, seems to me that if Park51 receives any kind of tax breaks for its building, New York can require that the center can’t deny employment to non-Muslims. That ought to reassure all those terrified folks out in Gopher Hole, Nebraska, that Park51 won’t be a secret jihadi training center that will dispatch suicide bombers to blow up the local VFW lodge.
Oh, and to Mr. Riehl, who writes, “The damned thing will be up before they ever get around to doing anything on the precise spot where the WTC stood.” Be assured that “ground zero” is now a construction site and several stories of the “freedom tower” have been built. Do keep up, dude.
On the other hand, I keep reading that the Park51 project will take a few years to complete. They don’t even have architectural drawings yet, and they are just beginning fund raising. The Freedom Tower (I really hope they don’t call it that; it sounds so Orwellian) is supposed to be finished in 2013, and no one expects construction on Park51 to be underway that soon.