FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote a vigorous rebuke March 9 to President Obama to protest his unprecedented recent decision to single out “religious proselytizing organizations for preferential treatment and travel privileges to Cuba.”
The new federal administrative rules discriminate on the basis of religious belief, “penalizing atheist or other freethought groups in the United States because we are not accorded the same privilege or benefit as religious groups.”
The stated purposes of the announced changes include to “increase people-to-people contact; support civil society in Cuba, enhance the free flow of information to, from and among the Cuban people; and help promote their independence from Cuban authorities.” (Italics added.)
FFRF charged the order creates the “free flow of religion rather than information” to Cuba.
In their letter, Barker and Gaylor wrote: “The order seemingly confers the U.S. government’s imprimatur upon religion and religious organizations and individuals. It conveys the belief that there is a compelling foreign affairs interest by the United States federal government to convert Cubans to religion.”
Never since the Cuban embargo was adopted have religious organizations been granted an unrestricted general license to travel to Cuba, even under such “faith-based presidents” as George W. Bush. In fact, Bush curtailed most travel, requiring specific licenses for both religious and secular nonprofits. The National Conference of Churches complained to Obama last year, asking him to “end the restrictions on religious travel to Cuba.”
The order means church groups may travel without a permit or approval by the U.S. government and may transfer “unlimited” monies to proselytize in Cuba. Groups which still must seek more onerous specific licenses include other nonprofit, charitable, human rights, humanitarian, educational groups and organizations advocating democracy or civil society.
Obama claimed his announced changes would “increase humanitarian flows to Cuba,” yet explicitly humanitarian charities (as opposed to explicitly proselytizing groups) are barred from seeking unrestricted licenses.
FFRF’s letter cites Office of Foreign Assets Control guidelines that show preference for U.S. religious activities in Cuba that engage in “religious indoctrination and religious indoctrination alone.” Implicitly considered not “consistent with U.S. foreign policy” are religious activities that include medical and health services and even those whose purpose is “inter-faith.”
Barker asserted, “No religious activities are ‘consistent with U.S. foreign policy.’
“Mr. President, we are concerned at the appearance that your order is establishing a crusading army of religious missionaries to descend upon the island of Cuba to religiously indoctrinate and religiously colonize the Cuban people.”
Barker and Gaylor wrote Obama that the United States has maintained its democracy “because secularism reigns supreme.
“It is neither the business nor the concern of the United States federal government to proselytize and evangelize the people of Cuba, or any other sovereign nation-state.
“The President of the United States of America, who takes an oath to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution, cannot perpetrate constitutional violations in the international legal milieu, which he is prevented from exercising inside the territory of the United States,” FFRF pointed out to the White House. The President may not “implement federal administrative regulations that make it exceedingly more difficult for the nonreligious than the religious to obtain federal government benefits.”
FFRF’s letter asks Obama to “reconsider and rescind your order establishing a discriminatory preference for religion in the federal government’s administrative rules. The mass coercion and conversion of Cubans to religion is entirely inconsistent with U.S. foreign policy.”
FFRF thanks Sarah Braasch for her research and analysis of this First Amendment violation.
Read the entire letter: