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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Government contracts and the Church

Obama's Antigay Discrimination Order Revives a Familar Religious Freedom Fight

After five years of hedging and rebuffing, the White House announced this week it would make good on a campaign promise with an executive order banning discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. But now lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transexual advocates who have long agitated for just such a move are warning the president not to undermine it by exempting religious groups ..... the focus is holding the line against any move to allow “federally funded, taxpayer-supported hiring discrimination against LGBT people,” says Ian Thompson, a legal representative with the ACLU. “And to include an exemption in this executive order, that is exactly what you’d be doing.”

Thomas Reese SJ wrote about the executive order too ....

Obama to forbid LGBT discrimination by federal contractors

[...] The timing of the Obama announcement could not have been worse, just before the U.S. bishops' Fortnight of Freedom, which begins June 21. Up until now, the fortnight focused on the bishops' opposition to the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The Obama announcement will undoubtedly spur Catholic bishops to redouble their efforts to rouse public opinion to see this as another threat to religious liberty.

While the White House says it wants to hear from interested parties, based on the experience with the Affordable Care Act, it is doubtful that the administration and the bishops will come up with mutually acceptable exemptions for religious institutions. But the stakes are too high for both sides and for the poor who are served by Catholic institutions not to try to find a workable solution. Defunding of Catholic organizations that served the poor is unthinkable.

And in a later post ...

So far, the executive order deals only with contracts, not grants. This is important because most of the money going to Catholic charities to help the poor comes in the form of grants, not contracts. But there is little doubt that if the administration is successful dealing with contracts, grants will soon be on the firing line.

This subject of a clash between the government, which is trying to protect its citizens from discrimination, and the Catholic Church, which wants to be able to discriminate while at the same time still using government money, has come up often lately in the areas of adoption, employment, health care, marriage, sex trafficking, and even hate crime legislation. The church *could* discriminate against people to its heart's content if only it would let go of the government's money, but the church really wants those government contracts and grants. This article in The New York Times states ...

Catholic Charities affiliates received a total of nearly $2.9 billion a year from the government in 2010, about 62 percent of its annual revenue of $4.67 billion. Only 3 percent came from churches in the diocese (the rest came from in-kind contributions, investments, program fees and community donations).

And as this past article in The Economist notes ...

The Economist estimates that annual spending by the church and entities owned by the church was around $170 billion in 2010 .... national charitable activities [comprise] just 2.7% .... Catholic Charities USA, its main charity, and its subsidiaries employ over 65,000 paid staff and serve over 10m people. These organisations distributed $4.7 billion to the poor in 2010, of which 62% came from local, state and federal government agencies.

And this from an article at Mother Jones ...

Under Obama, Catholic religious charities alone have received more than $650 million, according to a spokeswoman from the US Department of Health and Human Services, where much of the funding comes from. The USCCB, which has been such a vocal critic of the Obama administration, has seen its share of federal grants from HHS jump from $71.8 million in the last three years of the Bush administration to $81.2 million during the first three years of Obama. In fiscal 2011 alone, the group received a record $31.4 million from the administration it believes is virulently anti-Catholic, according to HHS data.

What the church doesn't seem to understand is that the government, and I'd think everyone else too, has an investment in seeing that all citizens are treated fairly. I hope there will be *no* religious exemptions granted .... I'm so tired of belonging to a church that seems to define itself more and more as the last redoubt for discrimination.


Anonymous Henry said...

It's been a long time since I have dropped by Crystal - I hope all is well.

You won't be surprised to know that I think you are being shortsighted about this issue and I propose you take a look at this blog post:

I especially want to highlight this paragraph: But, some are calling upon the Church to wash her hands of her federal contractor status and to re-commit to performing her good works independent of Obama’s dollars. Folks, let’s not forget something here: Those are our dollars. They belong to the American people. We gave them to the Feds. Catholics have as much a right to them as anyone else. So, let’s not allow the Feds to crowd us out because we refuse to conform to Obama’s radical social agenda.

4:12 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Henry,

It's good to hear from you :)

I read the article. From the headline, which says Obama is *attacking religious liberty* to the part you quoted, which says *Those are our dollars* it seems dishonest. The dollars from the government are from taxpayers and the church doesn't pay taxes. Yes, the people the church works with are taxpayers, and so are the gay people the church is discriminating against. And the government isn't trying to crowd anyone out of money or service ... did you see in my post how much money the Obama administration has given to the church in grants and contracts? Plus I don't doubt some kind of exemption will be worked out for the church, though I don't think it should.

I wish the church *would* stop taking the government's money and would use its own money to run its services. Then everyone could be happy ... taxpayers wouldn't be discriminated against with their own money and the church could discriminate against people all it wanted to.

I guess we have to agree to disagree on this :)

1:50 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Just to be clear - my starting point for my views on this subject starts from a very simple premise - I believe that a person's conscience is sacrosanct and that "freedom of conscience" serves as a bulwark against a state's or government's desire to make its citizens submit to it's views, particularly it view that unity and uniformity are the same thing.

In other words, I don't believe, as my experience has taught me, that any government is benevolent and the book Power of the Powerless really outlines this well!

7:50 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

The way you feel about the government is how I feel about the church :) When I think of conscience, it's the church that always seems to be trying to get people to do what it says instead of following their consciences. Cardinal Pell, who the pope recently picked for his group of 8 advisers, is a particular opponent of the primacy of conscience. The thing about the government, as opposed to the church, is that at least we little people get a vote.

9:54 PM  

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