18 September 2013

The Devil's In the Details on the Choice Between Christ and the Government Cheese

[L] Kay Daly, Executive Director of Christian Family Ministry (photo: Suwaunee Valley Times)

Fox News Radio's Todd Starnes reported how Christian  Service Center of Lake City Florida is being forced between choosing Jesus or Government Cheese.  For 31 years, this north  Florida ministry had been providing food the the hungry without controversy.  But when a state government worker showed up to negotiate  an agreement , Christian Service Ministry Executive Director Kay Daley was told that a "slight change" in the contract.  Now the governmental guidelines about where USDA food is distributed, there can be no religious information under the premise of "the separation of church and state". 

The Executive Order for Equal Protection of Faith Based and Community Organizations is supposed to allow governmental assistance as long as the religious activity does not create a barrier to individuals receiving their governmental assistance.   Yet the Christian Service Center was told that they were prohibited from distributing Bibles but this ban religious information that included  religious decorations, like "Jesus is Lord" banners and a copy of the Ten Commandments, where ever  USDA food is distributed.  Hence Stern's characterization of choosing Jesus or government cheese.

The organization asked if they needed to change their name from the Christian Service Ministry to comply and they were told no, but no praying, mentioning of chapel, distributing Bibles or beign around religious decoration.  The Christian Service Ministry chose to forgo USDA assistance in their ministering to the hungry.  Kay Daly mused:

“If God can multiply fish and loaves for 10,000 people, he can certainly bring in food for our food pantry so we can continue to feed the hungry.”

The Christian Service Ministry decided that they were a Christian ministry, which included helping people in need by praying with them, providing the Good News, worshiping and providing physical nutrition without government "help" and interference.  Other churches are reportedly pitching in the fill the void from the governmental help in feeding the hungry was withdrawn.  

President George W. Bush
Media Matters sought to mollify this righteous indigation from the right by arguing that George W. Bush did it and provided links to the Executive Order.  While it is true that the original ExecutiveOrder 13279 from December 12, 2002 does provide some guidelines for faith based organizations receiving governmental aid, the progressive media "watchdog" failed to include a link to President Obama's extensiveamendment to the Executive Order in 2010.   The devil in the details is understanding what the streamlined new legislative language means

There were major changes in sections 2(e) which was the provision that mandated that faith based organizations must conducting religious activity at a separate time or place than the federallly funded social service program.  This clause reminded the governement that it had to abide by the Free Speech and Equal Protection Clause when administering Federal Programs. 

In the Obama Amended Section 2(e) the Federal government is tasked with monitoring and enforcing "standards regarding the relationship between religion and government in ways that avoid excessive entanglement between religious bodies and governmental entities.  So the emphasis is taken away from faith based organizations complying with the prohibition on proselizing to federal aid recipients to the Federal government acting as referee to ensure that
Excessive entanglements are avoided.  

So despite retaining the Free Speech and Equal Protection language, the avoiding excessive entanglement clause in the amended 2(e) makes moot a faith based organizations First Amendment rights, as a blanket prohibition of religious information treats all equally when operating as an agency of the government.

There were more significant changes in the amended 2(f) clause which originally prohibited faith base organizations from using federal funds for inherently religious activity.  The 2010 Executive Order re-write severed the connection with section 2(e) as well as dropping mentions of Free Speech and Equal Protection. While the revised section 2(f) is more concisely composed, it recasts the clause as a bright line rule for separate time or location, without  the clarifying examples or the intent to emphasis to protect the independent spiritual mission of faith based ministries which engage in social services. 

So the Christian Service Ministry was probably within their legal rights to conduct their social service ministry in their own space, but since a federal functionary did not probably interpret the lawcorrectly (and understands this Administration), it would cost big bucks to litigate to keep federal funds flowing to feed the hungry. No wonder why the Christian Service Ministry chose to forgo their cut of the Government Cheese.

Nevertheless, as Bob Dylan put it: "You don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows." The Obama Administration has been hostile for respecting the free exercise of religion, as has been seen in the HHS Qualified Health Plan(Contraception) Mandate arguing that the Freedom of Religion means the Freedom of Worship--so believe whatever you want in the pews but that respect ends at the church doors. Ministers are now routinely barred from mass casualtysituations like the Boston Marathon bombing, for fear of the separation of church and state.  This is a fundamental misunderstanding of Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Church of 1802 and is a reaction to aggressive atheism in small segments of the American polity.

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