The Lamp

Where truth can be shared.

America Must Have Faith

Posted by thelamp on February 16, 2007

Once again, Christianity is on trial in America. On Feb. 28, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Hein v. Freedom From Religion, a case that will determine the future of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

In this case, atheists affiliated with the lawsuit-loving advocacy group Freedom From Religion are complaining about the use of money appropriated by Congress under Article I, section 8, to fund conferences that various executive-branch agencies hold to promote President Bush’s faith-based agenda. This is a program he created through a series of executive orders.

One order established an Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in the
White House. Other executive orders established centers for such projects in the various federal departments. In an effort to increase awareness of opportunities for collaborating with the government, the White House hosted conferences. The goal of these gatherings was to promote community organizations – whether secular or religious.

The conferences provided participants with information about the federal funding process, available funding opportunities and the requirements that come with the receipt of federal financial support. The meetings also created a forum to inform state and local officials about equal treatment regulations and other central elements of the Faith-Based and Community Initiative.

Religious and community groups have been assisting people in need for decades. The government has much to learn about providing social services from the men and women who lead and staff these noble organizations. Unfortunately, the federal government often has not been a willing partner to these groups.

Christians across the nation are grateful to President Bush for working to change this. Since he took office, thousands of grassroots organizations have received training in the federal grants process, and for the first time, hundreds of these groups have successfully competed for federal funds.

Rather than commending people of faith for their demonstrated contributions to America’s social fabric, members of Freedom From Religion are seeking to end those contributions. Their argument before the Supreme Court is based on a belief that the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution forbids the government from working in tandem with religious groups. This interpretation, however, misconstrues the Founding Fathers’ intent.

“The establishment clause requires the government to remain neutral where religion is concerned, not to treat religious entities punitively or in a discriminatory fashion,” said Pastor Rod Parsley. “Denying faith-based organizations the same opportunity to help communities and the people who populate them is clearly unequal treatment that turns the Founding Fathers’ intent on its ear.”

Federal courts have previously held that it is not a violation of the establishment clause for the government to redress discrimination against religious providers of social services.

It’s interesting that the case at hand focuses not on the grants awarded to faith-based groups, but rather on the conferences held to promote the availability of those grants. Since the president, not Congress, created the faith-based initiatives office, no legislation was passed authorizing money to host the conferences. Instead, White House officials used money from discretionary funds handed to them by Congress.

The Supreme Court’s ruling will determine whether individual citizens should be permitted to challenge such presidential actions because they disagree with them. Such a result would far exceed the intended purpose of the establishment clause, and values voters should pray that the justices don’t allow it.

It’s also worth noting that one of the defendants in this case is former Secretary of Education Rod Paige, whom the plaintiffs sued for having given a speech at one of the conferences. In that address, Paige said, “President Bush does this because he knows first-hand the power of faith to change lives – from the inside out. And the reason he knows this is because faith changed his life.”

Encouraging such lawsuits would place the judiciary in the role of managing and overseeing the executive branch, but such oversight undoubtedly is a function of Congress. Congress has not tried to curtail the faith-based initiatives program. It’s disturbing that Christianity’s detractors would disrupt the longstanding separation of powers balancing the respective branches of government. God willing, the Supreme Court will put an end to this nonsense.



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