Faith Based Initiatives

The Supreme Court is going to be deciding if a group of taxpayers has the right to sue the White House for using tax money on faith-based initiatives.

The case (Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation (No. 06-157)) is brought about by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).

Why should FFRF win this case? The government has been saying for years that religious groups deserve taxpayer money to provide social services. This gives religion a special standing over non-religious groups (who do not receive these funds), which is blatantly unconstitutional.

FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said the following:

“We’re challenging the creation of the White House and Cabinet-level faith-based offices and their conferences that they are holding with taxpayer money… If we don’t have standing, nobody has standing and Bush doesn’t have to answer anyone.”

Those conferences have been likened to church “revivals.”

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, also added:

“We believe that no tax money should be spent to advance religion… It’s essential that the justices uphold the principle that taxpayers can go to court when their money is being used to advance religion.”

Just for the sake of opposition, Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, has a response here.

Sekulow mischaracterizes the plaintiffs (and atheists in general) when he says:

“Time and time again, these organizations show their disdain for religiously motivated citizens.”

There is no contempt against religious people. Not by FFRF in this case, anyway. Religious people and churches are welcome to spend their own money any way they please. It’s discriminatory, however, for the government to give money to religious groups simply because they are religious in nature. What makes religious groups so much more qualified to help others? There are groups that can provide the same services without necessarily professing belief in God. Religion is not a prerequisite for goodness.

Due to the expedited nature of this particular case, oral arguments could occur early next year with a decision handed down by June.

To reiterate, victory in this case does not mean the White House must stop its faith-based programs. It simply means groups like FFRF will be able to sue in the future.

There is cause to be optimistic. This article says,

The case is one of nine lawsuits the [Freedom From Religion Foundation] has taken challenging various parts of the faith-based initiative. So far, the Foundation has won five significant victories in federal court, with four additional ongoing lawsuits, including major challenges of the infusion of faith and religion into the Department of Veteran Affairs, and at the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The Foundation is also awaiting judgment in its federal challenge of a 24/7 bible-based residential program at a prison in New Mexico.

Good luck to plaintiffs Dan Barker, Annie Laurie Gaylor, and Anne Nicol Gaylor.

Incidentally, FFRF co-presidents Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor had an enlightening conversation with Ron Reagan, atheist and son of the former president, on their radio show last week. You can download that conversation here.

[tags]Supreme Court, faith-based initiatives, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Barry Lynn, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Jay Sekulow, American Center for Law and Justice, Dan Barker, Anne Nicol Gaylor, Ron Reagan, atheist, atheism, Christian, FFRF[/tags]

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    The point of the Faith Based Initiative is not to give money to religious organizations because they are religious, it was to stop discriminating against those groups because of that fact in order for them to fill the service gaps in America’s social service network. There are strict rules concerning what they can do with the money. There is not any special set asides for these groups, they compete with Community Action Agencies and others to provide services in the community. If their proposals are competitive with non-religious groups and they follow the rules concerning not discriminating in the providing of services and not proselytizing why should anyone care enough to sue over it.

  • The Exterminator

    As an atheist, I think it would be terrific if the Supes decided in FFRF’s favor. For taxpayer money to be spent in the furtherance of religion is, of course, unconstitutional.

    However, as a realist, I think that an outcome for the good guys is extremely unlikely. Precedent and the Court climate speak against it. Recent Court decisions have found all kinds of loopholes for aid to parochial schools.

    For a little background on Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, you might enjoy reading my most recent post at No More Hornets.

  • txatheist

    Darwin’s Dagger,
    Because the organization receiving the money can discriminate in who they hire. The same reason the Boy Scouts can’t get federal funding anymore(I think) is because they discriminate.

  • Intergalactic Hussy

    Good post. I personally find religion and “god” to be quite immoral. All the things that happens because of religion and religious people are terrible, including all the things that are carried out because of religon and/or god. The bible doesn’t say anything against slavery or rape. I want no part of anything that condones two of the worse acts ever!

  • Allen

    WHen did we decide to give up on democracy. The comments above establish that there are multiple ways to look at the issue and its constitutionality. The idea that Bush answers to no one unless he has to answer to some special interest group in a court is nonsense. He and every other elected official answers to US. But we are increasingly unwilling to engage in the messy and drawn out democratic process to decide issues like this or we find ourselves in a minority and want to force our view on everyone else through the courts. What if the day comes that 5 of the Supremes are John Ascroft clones? WIll you then want that court to decide all questions about abortion, gay rights, faith based inititives, etc.

    I say lets not surrender our right to decide these issues by the democratic process. Lets not runb to judges to rule that things like this are beyond the democratic process.

  • Moglandor

    Well, there’s pretty much no way the Supreme Court will say the FFRF has standing in this case. Cases against government policy based on taxpayer status almost always fail on the ground of standing. The Supreme Court has consistently said this is the type of thing best left to the political process. I’m interested to see if ANY justices will vote to recognize standing in this case, because, in light of precedents they will have to engage in either twisted or very clever reasoning to do so. My prediction: If the FFRF is lucky they will lose 7-2 with Breyer and Ginsburg dissenting.

    And don’t get your panties in a bunch, even if (or when) the FFRF loses; that does not mean the Court considers the “Faith Based Initiative” Constitutional. It just means the plaintiffs could not overcome a basic Constitutional hurdle in bringing a case.

  • Lynn I.

    I agree with Darwin’s Dagger – all it does is level the playing field (which was not level before) so that any organization can compete for the federal grant money:

    taken directly from the description of the faith-based and community initiative document:

    Faith-based and community organizations (FBCOs) have a long tradition of helping Americans in need and together represent an integral part of our nation’s social service network. Yet, all too often, the Federal government has put in place complicated rules and regulations preventing FBCOs from competing for funds on an equal footing with other organizations. President Bush believes that besides being inherently unfair, such an approach can waste tax-payer dollars and cut off the poor from successful programs. Federal funds should be awarded to the most effective organizations—whether public or private, large or small, faith-based or secular—and all must be allowed to compete on a level playing field.

    So what I’m getting from those who oppose all religious organizations is that it would be better for the poor, homeless, sick…to suffer than to let any religious organization receive federal funding in which to help. If I’m reading you all wrong please point out where I misread what’s been said here.

    Tx – I think your comment is way out in left field and doesn’t really have bearing on the issue at hand.

    Because the organization receiving the money can discriminate in who they hire. The same reason the Boy Scouts can’t get federal funding anymore(I think) is because they discriminate.

  • txatheist

    I think the religious organizations already slide unethically when it comes to taxes. They don’t pay them at all. Here’s the catch….Bush grants 5 million dollars to church xyz to help the poor/homeless. There is no accountability for this funding. They don’t report this money as earned income and they don’t file corporate taxes so we know how it’s spent. They can simply give 2.5 million right back to the government party of their choice so that every taxpayer just gave money they paid in taxes to a political party they may not care for and a church they find corrupt. The Diocese of Seattle declared bankruptcy to avoid paying out anymore pedophilia costs/fines in lawsuits. If our government gives them money they get to stay in business based on every taxpayer making sure the victims don’t get a payout for being molested but the Catholic Church remains. If you think that the Catholic Church remaining in business is ok then we disagree on that. If you don’t think religious organizations discrminate in who they hire then you need to check it out. If the parishioners of a church want to help the poor and homeless let them do it. When I do hands on housing I pay for the supplies and devote my time. I don’t ask uncle sam for a reimbursement check for doing volunteer work. If you don’t understand my relative point why don’t we give money to the KKK? To me there is little difference between the bigotry in fundamentalist churches as there is in the KKK.

  • Darwin’s Dagger

    Bush grants 5 million dollars to church xyz to help the poor/homeless. There is no accountability for this funding.

    Yes. There is. Any organization (and I write grants for a non-religious community action agency) that accepts money from the Federal government to provide shelter to the homeless better well use that money to provide shelter to the homeless. The Feds require regular reports on how many people are being served by such programs. And they are FORBIDDEN by law to preach to these people. They can invite them to join them in the church for services, but they aren’t even allowed to offer these services in worship space if it will compromise the separation of church and state. They are free to make whatever staffing choices they want, but that staff cannot be paid for duties related to religious activities from federal funds. Any violation of these rules and that church would have to pay back the entire 5 million dollars.

  • Lynn I.


    So many topics you touch on here…

    Taxes: no, churches don’t pay taxes, but neither do non-profit organizations in general. I used to work for the ARC (Assoc. for Retarded Citizens), we were tax-exempt. We did generate money, but we didn’t sell anything at a profit – We also weren’t exactly self-supporting – we did fund raising and applied for public and private grant money. Churches are really no different.

    Accountability for Funding: Under the Faith-based Initiative, they are held accountable, just as other non-profit agencies would be.

    Financial Reporting Requirements. To make sure that grant funds are used properly, organizations that receive Federal funds must file regular financial status reports. These forms should not take long to fill out, but they are important. The basic financial report form is a one-page document called Standard Form 269. Many agencies have adapted this form to suit their own programs. You can find a copy of Standard Form 269 at

    Financially supporting a political party: Most, if not all church by-laws, etc state very clearly that they cannot financially support a party or candidate. Whether individual members do, that is totally up to them. So I think the risk of any religious organization using federal grant money to support a political party/candidate is slim to none. (Unlike teachers and other unions that take dues from individuals and support whomever the union chooses, giving no thought to what a memebr may choose.)

    Grant funds for pedophiles: The grants are for community-based programs, not operational/administrative costs -so again I think the risk of the funding being misappropriated is pretty slim. I have very strong opinions about the catholic church. I think at it’s basic core they are set up to be a gathering place for homosexuals and pedophiles. The bible doesn’t say you shouldn’t be married – Paul teaches that if you’re serving the Lord, and you’re married you could be distracted from your service because the tenents of marraige are so clearly defined. So in that case he says its better not to be married, but he also says God encourages marraige and it’s a very good thing (I’m obviously paraphrasing here.)

    Hiring practices: Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, religious organizations hiring practices are protected. Or do you not htink religious people should have civil rights?

    Why shouldn’t people just take out of their own pocket: Here’s a scenario for you – There are 5 of us who have a passion for building homes for the homeless. All of us work at regular jobs and make average incomes. We each have $200 we can spend on materials and we’re willing to donate our time. So we have 5 people and $1000. How far are we going to get on a house? Let’s take the same 5 people, but now our church has been awarded a $100,000 grant under the faith-based and community initiatives act – how much more can we do – how many more people can we serve now???

    Let’s give some to the KKK: I’m not sure what fundamentalist churches you’re talking about here – perhaps you could be a little more specific because I don’t think I’ve heard of a church hanging someone based on their skin color…or burning a cross in their front yard…or serving the likes of Adolph Hitler…or spewing hatred and bigotry the way the KKK does. And please, before you respond to this last comment, make it real and relevant – not naming crazy cult leaders like Jim Jones or some such idiot.

    I look forward to reading your next comments.

  • txatheist

    It’s completely different. Your non-profit still pays property taxes. You still pay income tax as employees. You also can’t get federal funding if you discriminate. If you don’t think some churches said to vote for Bush then I can’t begin to say that is false. Are they supposed to? No, but they do. Slim to none is giving credit to way to many clergymen. Sure, most are good people but Peter Popoff types are around. Teachers generally pay unions to make their working conditions better. People tithing are not doing it so a priest can keep the money or give it as he pleases with no accountability. The teachers unions know where the money is going, their is no accountability to parishioners from churches on the money they receive. There are secular organizations that provide good works. They are not for profit and there is no loophole on the taxes.

    The civil rights act allows churches to be uncivil. Someone is capable of doing the job but because he’s atheist or Muslim he can’t get the job. That’s not protection but bigotry. That’s like saying a science professor can’t get hired at a university if he’s a christian and he might lie and teach creationism.

    Scenario answer. The same $100,000 can go to Hands on Housing which is not religious based and it goes just as far with religious and non-religious groups doing the volunteer work.

    The KKK is a Christian religious based group. They don’t kill blacks during service but they sure do go out of their way to make minorities uncomfortable. I visited the Museum of Tolerance in the L.A. area. The number of KKK/Aryan groups in the US is amazing, 100′s of them. It’s gotten better since blacks stood up for themselves and collectively we’ve stopped the bigotry. Tell me the difference between a KKK member calling someone a useless N word and only 3/5 human compared to a church person saying non-Christians are immoral and wicked. The only difference between Jim Jones and your minister is you all aren’t as committed as a Chrisitian. That’s the reality.

    Let me ask you this. Why would we want to encourage funding religious organizations in any manner?

  • txatheist

    Reality example: What percentage of the members of the Evangical supporters gave Ted Haggard money so that he could get a massage(?) from a gay guy when he was well known to condemn homosexuals ?

  • txatheist

    The Feds require regular reports on how many people are being served by such programs. And they are FORBIDDEN by law to preach to these people. They can invite them to join them in the church for services, but they aren’t even allowed to offer these services in worship space if it will compromise the separation of church and state.

    I’m sure that that happens all the time, they repay it when they use it illegally. We hear about that frequently or else churhes are just that honest

  • Mike C

    The government has been saying for years that religious groups deserve taxpayer money to provide social services. This gives religion a special standing over non-religious groups (who do not receive these funds), which is blatantly unconstitutional.

    I’m sorry Hemant, but your statements here are just inaccurate. I don’t know all the details of the faith based initiatives thing. However, as several others have pointed out, this is not about special money being given exclusively to faith based groups so that they can have “revivals” and prosyletize. All this does is allow faith based organizations who provide legitimate social services to compete for the same money that is already available to other non-religious social service providers.

    These FBO’s may only use the funds for social services related activities, and must keep these activities separate from any kind of religious teaching or worship, or any kind of proselytizing, according to the entry at wikipedia.

    Let me give you a few examples of what FBO’s are doing with these funds:

    My friends Rich and Rose Swetman are co-pastors of a church near Seattle. They also run an organization called Turning Point, which works with low income families to help “coach, educate, and care”, for example, by offering youth baseketball programs, marriage strengthening workshops, conflict-resolution classes for teens, school supply give-aways, etc. There is no explicitly religious content to anything they do with these families. They just want to love people in need and make a difference in their community.

    My friends at LifeSpring Community Church in Plainfield, IL are seeking federal funds to help them run a mobile food pantry in a low-income, hispanic neighborhood of Joliet, IL. They give groceries to over 200 families every two-weeks. Again, there is no “religious” content to what they’re doing. They’re just trying to get food to hungry people.

    And my church, Via Christus, is involved, together with LifeSpring in an organization called New Life for Haiti, which is building hospitals, clinics, schools, wells, and micro-businesses in one of the poorest regions on earth. We are looking into applying for federal foreign-relief grants to help us do that work down there. Again, there is nothing explicitly religious about what we’re doing. We’re just trying to make life better for people living in extreme poverty.

    That’s the real face of faith based initiatives. Not pedophiles, not the KKK, and not evangelistic revivals. You guys can keep arguing about whether it’s “constitutional” or “discriminatory” or whatever. All I know is that as long as the money continues to be available to us, we’re going to continue finding ways to use it to help people in need and make the world a better place.



  • txatheist

    Mike C,
    I’m glad you do good works and I acknowledge that reality but you can either remain blind to the fact that some groups will abuse the federal funding or not. Vision Village in Austin was caught doing this and shut down. It crossed the line and the leader was taking funding for her own personal use to buy expensive gifts, to the tune of over 300k. While your church is one of the ones who does good work there is no reason we can’t have the separation of church and state and you and your volunteers start up a secular organization to feed them. I stand by the reality that some ministers and parishioner will do good things just like us atheists would do if the Humanist Association or American Atheists received federal funding but it isn’t like that. The level of bigotry is here and now. The Buddhists in Texas are fighting a battle to remain tax-exempt because according to Texas law one must acknowledge a Supreme being to be considered religious. The same problem arises for the Ethical Society of Austin. Hecht, some group tried to come after the UU people about a year ago because we didn’t have dogma such as a holy book. I appreciate what you do but if you want faith based funding then drop the tax exempt status. I see no reason why churches shouldn’t pay taxes. We will disagree that it’s a not for profit organization.

  • Mike C

    It crossed the line and the leader was taking funding for her own personal use to buy expensive gifts, to the tune of over 300k.

    This kind of thing can and does happen with secular non-profits too. What does this have to do with the faith based initiatives issue?

    if you want faith based funding then drop the tax exempt status.

    How does that make any sense? Other groups that do social work are tax exempt non-profits. Why should faith based groups have to give up their tax exemption in order to do social work?

  • txatheist

    Two wrongs don’t make a right and the accountants and auditors scrutinize non-profits. The work that a boss does for Alcoholics Anonymous gets taxed on his income. If you want to get funding to support churches then give up your tax exempt status so we can all see where the money is being spent, open and fully disclosed records. If you have nothing to hide then no worries. Vision Village got caught and we can be aware of more corrupt faith based funding with this type of accountability. You don’t have to give up your tax exempt status UNLESS you want my money to go to churches.

    On a second note. FFRF did file claim against the federal Bureau of Prisons in May concerning single faith

  • txatheist

    sorry, it got cut off

    On a second note, FFRF did file claim against the Federal Bureau of Prisons in May concerning single faith based based prison ministries and the funding was halted in October before the program ever got started.

  • Lynn I.


    Do you recall Katrina? What about after 9/11? It was the secular groups – United Way, etc. that abused the donations and the grant funding they got to assist. The ones out there for real in the trenches were the faith-based groups – without federal bucks. I can’t help but wonder how much more help they could have provided if they’d have had more money.

    And I don’t know where you get the idea that people who work for faith-based groups, churches, etc don’t pay income tax—they do. I worked for a short time at my church, and trust me when I tell you I paid income tax on my earnings. The church is tax-exempt, not the people who work there. If someone has told you otherwise, they were sadly mistaken.

    As far as the KKK goes, I honestly do’t konw of one person who really believes that the KKK is a religious organization. It is founded on the principles that white, christians should rule the world – emphasis on the white, ot the christian…

    The likes of the Ted Haggards in the world are absolutely shameful – yes I will stand alongside you with the banner that says, “there are some real idiots that profess christianity…” just as long as you stand alongside me with the banner that says, ” there are some real idiots that profess atheism…”

    I konw you refer alot to the catholic church, and perhaps the way they’re set up is different than what I’ve ever been used to, but in all of my dealings (southern Baptist and Christian Church) the budgets, expenditures, and accountability is crystal clear and open to scrutiny. Maybe that’s why you’re opinion is jaded and mine is not. That’s really a shame.

    I’ve not ever seen the side of christianity that you consistently refer to.

  • Lynn I.


    one more question – how do you figure that a church is a for profit business?

  • Lynn I.


    I looked up the program that FFRF was able to halt. (You said it like it was a good thing). Here’s what the program they stopped was able to do. I would ask you to do one thing when you read this – stop to think how many men and women currently incarcerated might have had a chance to change their direction in life? Rather than applauding FFRF for what they did to stop this program (because of their religious bias), they should be shunned for their self-serving agenda. *(also note the number of volunteers used to run this program – my guess is it was people from the community, who found out about the program through their church and wanted to help. How many from the FFRF do you think volunteered? Are they now stepping up to fill the void left after the destruction of this program? I think not!) Here’s the story:

    Fort Worth , TX
    Daily Point of Light No. 2854
    January 12, 2005

    The Life Connections Program was initiated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons in response to the President’s Faith Based initiative. Although there are five programs in the federal system, FMC Carswell represents the only Life Connection Program for female inmates. Chaplain Beverley Ford has served as the Program Manager since the activation of the program in October 2002. Working along with her to recruit and train volunteer mentors is Denise Walker, the institution’s Volunteer Coordinator.

    The 76 inmates participating in the Life Connections Program are involved in numerous intense activities designed to prepare them for successful community re-integration. They are assisted in the program by a multi-faith team of spiritual guides and a program facilitator who tracks their day-to-day activities. The spiritual guides lead the participants through a set of workbooks designed specifically for the Life Connections Program. These challenging classes confront the participants in critical areas of their lives and encourage them to make changing decisions.

    Each participant meets twice a month with a personal volunteer mentor from the community. These mentors are versed in the components of the program and help to strengthen the principles taught in the classes. The mentors provide a valuable link to the community and assist the participants as the move toward home. Currently the program at FMC Carswell has 78 volunteer community mentors who are dedicated to this task.

    To visit the mentoring program on a Tuesday evening is an exciting experience. A mixture of laughter, serious conversation, and tears permeate the room as mentor and protégé talk about the issues facing the Life Connections Program participant. One gets the distinct impression that something special and life changing is happening. The mentoring component of Life Connections moves the inmates out of the workbook and into real life with real and meaningful communication. The goal of the mentoring experience is to assure the participant she is not alone and that there is someone there who believes they are a good person who can contribute in a positive way to society. Whether the issue is emotions, relationships, parenting, or personal spirituality, the mentor joins with the Life Connections participant on their life journey.

    The dedicated volunteer mentors in the Life Connections Program are the catalyst to a life changing experience for the participants. The first life connection program class graduated in May 2004 and during the graduation ceremony several of the participants shared how the program had positively impacted their lives. All of them mentioned the enormous impact that the mentors have had on their spiritual journey. Under the capable leadership of Chaplain Ford, the enthusiastic recruitment and training by Ms. Walker, and the wholehearted support of the Executive Staff of Carswell, the Life Connections Program volunteer mentors are a shinning example of people making a difference.

  • txatheist

    Lynn said

    Do you recall Katrina? What about after 9/11? It was the secular groups – United Way, etc. that abused the donations and the grant funding they got to assist. The ones out there for real in the trenches were the faith-based groups – without federal bucks. I can’t help but wonder how much more help they could have provided if they’d have had more money.

    Abused the money or didn’t properly distribute it? I know the Red Cross got a bad rap for holding contributions specifically for 9/11 in a rainy day fund and that didn’t set well with people. Spare me that you want to give credit to xians for making the lives of Katrina victims better. It was a collective effort, don’t give xians credit for doing the grunt work unless you also want to take blame for the Superdome chaos. I can only imagine helping the victims by telling them to stop praying and come up with a true plan to put their lives back in order.

    Working for a church and the church having to declare it’s income are two different things. You were an employee and are required to claim income. They’d be in violation for not declaring the money you were paid. Ask your minister for his tax returns.

    If you don’t know one person who realizes the KKK is a Christian based group then visit a few web sites. I’m not friends with any KKK members but that doesn’t mean I’m unaware of how they came to their beliefs. If you hear or read of any KKK groups saying they are atheist in nature let me know. But if you do find one let me know how many Christian based ones you had to sort through.

    When you run across an atheist that asks for contributions to his group and he condemns homosexuals in his lectures but goes out and hires gay massage therapists I’ll stand by the sign that says that atheists are just as big of hypocrites as bible thumpers.

    I was Methodist and Catholic and JW and I’m no more jaded that the Catholic Church hides pedophiles than the Protestant churches have 1000′s of denominations because they all think they are right in their sect. I was completely naive and unaware of how corrupt that it could been when I attended. I so willingly trusted them as good authority figures that it never crossed my mind.

    For profit-they keep asking for money when they have paid all the bills, but they can always use more money and just put it in their pocket and no one will know.

    It was a great thing to actually educate prisoners and reform them instead of presenting irrelevent material. If the folks really cared they would have programs for them upon release and help them get back on their feet. If they really cared they’d have programs to prevent them from doing the crime but when you have a captive audience that is praised for listening to religious material then instead of helping them to improve their life you just give them false hopes from a story. They come out of prison without any useful knowledge or skills from this wasted effort. How can we get into prison? The federal chaplain, military chaplains and prison chaplains can’t be atheist. As far as helping people I have 3 inner city youth in Houston that I have helped remain out of jail and I can attest for the great things I have done to make their lives better. They are grateful and they are well aware that I am an atheist. If the feds hire an atheist social provider then we can hear about the contributions but that position isn’t likely to open soon. How pompous to think you or they do more than atheists.

  • txatheist

    I don’t know if you caught 20/20 on ABC tonight but John Stossel did a report on a church feeding the homeless/poor. The city of Fairfax, VA was stepping in and saying the church had to get their kitchen up to code. 3 separate sinks for washing dishes, another sink for washing hands, a license to serve food and several other things. I completely agree that the county was sticking their nose in too far. The homeless were eating better than they ever did and confessed they usually had to pick thru garbage for food. Before you take this somewhere I just wanted to say that I do appreciate the people(xians) feeding the homeless/poor.

  • Mike C

    Ask your minister for his tax returns.

    I am a minister and I pay income taxes. Or, I would if I earned enough to even make it into the lowest paying tax bracket. As it is, my church income places me well below the poverty line for a family of three. But I do still file tax returns, and I’d be happy to show them to anyone who is interested. Same with our church financial statements.

    Trust me, very few people are getting rich in church ministry. Very few. Most of us are making huge financial and life sacrifices because of our love for God and love for people.

  • txatheist

    Are you an employee of the church? Employees pay, the church doesn’t report income. I do agree many people make sacrifices to be ministers. However, I bet Julie can confirm it’s a lot more lucrative in Texas and all you gotta do is become Southern Baptist :)

  • Karen

    I would never argue that religious groups don’t do good. They do. I was involved in several great community outreach programs with my church over the years, though they were all evangelism-based as well as designed to help the poor.

    However, there are some serious problems with the faith-based initiative that are outlined today in a front-page NYTimes story. It goes through several lawsuits where courts concluded that funds were misspent.

    The fundamental problems with many of these programs are 1) they get government funding and then discriminate in hiring, which I believe is wrong and 2) they use federal funds to reward people for converting, particularly in prisons. I think that’s using religion coercively, and that’s what groups like FFRF and AU (Americans United for Separation of Church and State) object to strongly:

    December 10, 2006
    Religion for a Captive Audience, Paid For by Taxes

    Life was different in Unit E at the state prison outside Newton, Iowa.

    The toilets and sinks — white porcelain ones, like at home — were in a separate bathroom with partitions for privacy. In many Iowa prisons, metal toilet-and-sink combinations squat beside the bunks, to be used without privacy, a few feet from cellmates.

    The cells in Unit E had real wooden doors and doorknobs, with locks. More books and computers were available, and inmates were kept busy with classes, chores, music practice and discussions. There were occasional movies and events with live bands and real-world food, like pizza or sandwiches from Subway. Best of all, there were opportunities to see loved ones in an environment quieter and more intimate than the typical visiting rooms.

    But the only way an inmate could qualify for this kinder mutation of prison life was to enter an intensely religious rehabilitation program and satisfy the evangelical Christians running it that he was making acceptable spiritual progress. The program — which grew from a project started in 1997 at a Texas prison with the support of George W. Bush, who was governor at the time — says on its Web site that it seeks “to ‘cure’ prisoners by identifying sin as the root of their problems” and showing inmates “how God can heal them permanently, if they turn from their sinful past.”

    One Roman Catholic inmate, Michael A. Bauer, left the program after a year, mostly because he felt the program staff and volunteers were hostile toward his faith.

    “My No. 1 reason for leaving the program was that I personally felt spiritually crushed,” he testified at a court hearing last year. “I just didn’t feel good about where I was and what was going on.”

    For Robert W. Pratt, chief judge of the federal courts in the Southern District of Iowa, this all added up to an unconstitutional use of taxpayer money for religious indoctrination, as he ruled in June in a lawsuit challenging the arrangement.

    The Iowa prison program is not unique. Since 2000, courts have cited more than a dozen programs for having unconstitutionally used taxpayer money to pay for religious activities or evangelism aimed at prisoners, recovering addicts, job seekers, teenagers and children.

  • Nes

    I would need a lot more info before I could agree or disagree with the FFRF in that story, Lynn. For example:

    They are assisted in the program by a multi-faith team of spiritual guides…

    Do they have Buddhists? Hindus? Muslims? Atheists? Lutherans, Catholics, Southern Baptists, Mormons? Can one from any of these groups (or any other) join the program and not be coerced into joining a different religion? What is meant by spiritual? (There are several more references to spiritual in the rest of the text.) If some one is a strict materialist, could they still join? Would this, and if so, how would this, conflict with spiritual teaching?

    These mentors are versed in the components of the program and help to strengthen the principles taught in the classes.

    What are the components of the program? What are the principles that are taught? Is it taught that these principles come from a divine source or a specific religion?

    I don’t mean to attack the program, or the people who ran it. I have no doubt that it has helped some people, and it’s a shame that those people lost that help. I strongly believe in trying to rehabilitating prisoners. But, whatever our feelings about it, if the program excludes some religions (or the lack thereof), or favors certain religions, it would be unconstitutional for it to be run with government money. No appeal to consequences can change that. If it was open to all religions (or the lack thereof), and wasn’t coercive, then there wouldn’t (shouldn’t) be a problem.

  • TXatheist

    from the article
    [b]In ruling on that case, Judge Pratt noted that the born-again Christian staff was the sole judge of an inmate’s spiritual transformation. If an inmate did not join in the religious activities that were part of his “treatment,” the staff could write up disciplinary reports, generating demerits the inmate’s parole board might see. Or they could expel the inmate.

    And while the program was supposedly open to all, in practice its content was “a substantial disincentive” for inmates of other faiths to join, the judge noted. Although the ministry itself does not condone hostility toward Catholics, Roman Catholic inmates heard their faith criticized by staff members and volunteers from local evangelical churches, the judge found. And Jews and Muslims in the program would have been required to participate in Christian worship services even if that deeply offended their own religious beliefs.

    “The state has literally established an Evangelical Christian congregation within the walls of one of its penal institutions, giving the leaders of that congregation, i.e., InnerChange employees, authority to control the spiritual, emotional and physical lives of hundreds of Iowa inmates,” Judge Pratt wrote. “There are no adequate safeguards present, nor could there be, to ensure that state funds are not being directly spent to indoctrinate Iowa inmates.”[/b]

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  • Forrest Langley

    Fact of the matter is since christians are the majority of taxpayers in America they have as much right to grants as any other groups. These grants our not used to promote religion.But they are used to help the helpless. I cant understand why anyone would not want them to help. but I do understand. Atheists know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Almighy God is alive and well. And they are going to meet him at the judgment.

  • Forrest Langley

    here is what tickles me they try to tell us that being gay is normal and natural. I just have a couple questions. If that is so then why cant they naturally have children. Also I can prove that it is not normal and natural to be gay. When you see or study the majority of homos for insance in a woman woman relationship or man to man relationship for the most part one plays the role of the male and the other the female. Why is that? Because God put that inside of them. That is normal and natural. to prove that heterosexuality is normal and natural when they come together they have offspring. I do wish that that Gay people would have their own nation. Because they would not be alive long. Aids would take most out. But they would not be able to procreate and they would not be on earth long.