The Biden Administration should abolish, not resurrect the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, as it has with this week’s executive order. The Freedom From Religion Foundation was the most vociferous critic of President George W. Bush’s egregious action to establish a “faith-based initiative,” which has created so much bad precedent to entangle religion and government.
As FFRF noted at the time, 9/11 was “a faith-based initiative” — and so was Jan. 6.
Our lawsuit over the creation of a faith-based office in the White House and at the cabinet level went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In Hein v. FFRF, issued in 2007, the high court in a 5-4 decision (following the unfortunate resignation of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor), ruled that FFRF, Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, President Emeritus Anne Gaylor and other FFRF Board members, had no right to sue the executive branch for entangling state and church. In fact, the ruling made clear that no citizen would have the right to sue the president for setting up a faith-based office in the White House.
The Supreme Court did not find the office constitutional, never ruling on the merits of the case. That office is indeed unconstitutional, and it has been abused to reward churches that support political candidates, among other things. Christian organizations have been given high preference under previous administrations. Said one Bush official, “When I saw one of those non-Christian groups in the set [of grants] I was reviewing, I just stopped looking at them and gave them a zero. . . . A lot of us did.” Bush used the office to compensate his supporters: evangelical Christians. Former President Trump notoriously appointed televangelist Paula White to run the office.
When President Barack Obama was elected, he watered down the office by renaming it the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The Biden iteration is better than previous versions because the executive order technically recognizes secular aid organizations, the separation between state and church, and the existence of nonreligious Americans. The order says it is establishing the office “while preserving our fundamental constitutional commitments guaranteeing the equal protection of the laws and the free exercise of religion and forbidding the establishment of religion.” (emphasis added).
The order states that the purpose of the office is “to assist in organizing more effective efforts to serve people in need across the country and around the world, in partnership with civil society, including faith-based and secular organizations.” But the order doesn’t create an Office of Neighborhood Partnerships to Serve People in Need, as it should. Instead it wrongly singles out faith-based aid for special treatment, buying into the myth that most social services in our nation are religious in nature. But in this case as in so many others, churches get the credit . . . and taxpayers get the bill.
Biden has tapped Melissa Rogers, who ran the office during Obama’s second term, as its newest executive director. She is the former general counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, which is generally pro-state/church separation and has supported FFRF in some cases. Josh Dickson, named deputy director of the faith-based office, helped with “Humanists for Biden” and co-authored a Brookings Institute report with E.J. Dionne entitled, “A Time to Heal, A Time to Build.” Apparently taking its title from Ecclesiastes 3:3, the report recognizes nonbelievers, stating that “the proportion of Americans who do not identify with any religious tradition has skyrocketed, especially among the young, and these nonbelievers are an important” political constituency. Rogers and Dickson may appreciate the separation of state and church, but the office itself violates that principle. And the degree of the violation should not depend on who's in the office.
“Our government should be working to get aid to Americans in need, especially now,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, “ not singling out ‘faith’ for special treatment, rules and offices. The administration is buying into the myth that religion only does good, and is wrongly forcing taxpayers to support faith-based aid, which is often exclusionary and problematic.”
A case in point is a lawsuit before the Supreme Court that FFRF is closely watching, in which Catholic Charities is demanding a right to contract to provide state services, yet still be able to discriminate against LGBTQ citizens.
The Kentucky Legislature is fast-tracking a bill that would allow widespread discrimination in health care in the name of religion. Please urge your state senators to oppose this dangerous measure.
The bill, SB 83, would allow licensed health care workers (such as doctors, nurses and pharmacists) and health care payers (employers paying for health insurance) to refuse to participate in any health care they claim to have a religious objection to. This would allow, for instance, pharmacists to refuse to fill contraception prescriptions, nurses or doctors to refuse to provide gender-affirming health care, employers to refuse to pay for contraceptives — and much more.
This bill poses a serious threat to Kentucky residents and could needlessly jeopardize the medical needs of vulnerable patients, particularly women and LGBTQ individuals. Please click on the red “Take Action” link below to use our simple, automated system to contact your state senators and urge them to vote no on SB 83. Feel free to use or adapt the talking points provided.
The Tennessee Legislature is advancing two extremely dangerous bills that would expand religious exemptions for the Covid-19 vaccine, putting innumerable Tennesseans and Americans at risk. Please take action today to urge lawmakers to oppose these misguided bills.
These bills would allow religious beliefs to interfere with attempts to achieve herd immunity against Covid-19 and would lead to vulnerable Tennesseans dying when we have the means to prevent it. The current epidemic exception to the religious opt-out exists for good reason and overturning it in the middle of a pandemic that continues to threaten lives and our entire health care system is obviously misguided.
The Tennessee House Health Subcommittee will hold a hearing on these bills TOMORROW, Tuesday, Feb. 16, at noon local time. Please use our simple, automated system to contact the members of this subcommittee and urge them to vote no on HB 10 and HB 13. Feel free to use or adapt the talking points suggested or write your own. Personalized messages are always the most effective.
Please urge the Dane County Board of Supervisors to reconsider its policy to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and a “moment of inspiration/prayer” prior to each meeting.
News surrounding the recitation of the pledge at professional athletic events and protests for racial justice has begun to shine a light on its racist and nationalist history. FFRF has documented for decades the pledge’s divisiveness, which erodes our founding ideals of liberty and equality by including a national endorsement of Chrsitianity, literally dividing the “indivisible.”
It’s time that our elected officials get rid of this divisive show of piety and shallow patriotism in favor of true unity. Some supervisors have expressed support for dropping the pledge, and you can help them bring the issue up for discussion by expressing your support.
The Dane County Board of Supervisors next meets on Thursday, Feb. 18. Please email all members and urge them to drop this divisive practice. Feel free to use or adapt the talking points provided. Personalized messages are always the most impactful.
We also encourage you to register to attend this virtual Board meeting, and to offer a public comment in support of ending the pledge and prayer practice. Information on how to register is available on the meeting’s agenda.
SUGGESTED TALKING POINTS
As a Dane County resident, I urge the Board to reconsider its policy to begin meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance and moment of inspiration/prayer. The nationalist and divisive history of the pledge makes it a poor choice to include in meetings that should favor representing all Dane County residents, regardless of race, religion or creed. I urge you to drop the practice of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and the moment of inspiration/prayer in the interest of inclusivity, secularism and true unity. Thank you for your time.
The Maryland Legislature is considering an anti-abortion bill that would prohibit public funding of essential reproductive health care services.
Please take a few moments to urge your legislators to oppose this bill (HB 834) and support such funding.
Legislation designed to curb access to abortion services aims to codify into law beliefs not based on science or morality, but on religion and so-called holy books. The Christian Right has been and remains the primary opponent to women’s reproductive rights. We must make certain that our lawmakers do not abandon the safety and autonomy of some of the most vulnerable Marylanders in favor of religious dogma.
The House Appropriations Committee has a hearing scheduled on Wednesday, Feb. 17, at 1:30 p.m. Click on the red “Take Action” link below to contact all members of this committee and urge them to protect access to reproductive health care services. Feel free to use or adapt the talking points below or write your own. For best results, be concise and courteous.
Former Louisiana state Sen. John Milkovich has recently published an unhinged op-ed in the Bossier Press-Tribune espousing his desire to “take our schools back” for God.
Milkovich writes: “We’re convicted that is no Time to Rest. It’s time to expel Socialism, Atheism and Alternative Lifestyles from Our Curriculum. It’s Time to get Common Core and Eureka Math out of Our Schools. And itsTime to get God, Patriotism, Discipline, Respect and Values Back In!" [sic]
Public schools exist to educate, not to proselytize. The schools are supported by all taxpayers, and therefore should be free of religious observances and coercion. Neutrality toward religion protects the rights of conscience of public school students and their parents, and eliminates unnecessary divisions caused by religion.
We need state/church defenders to correct the record on these startling claims. We encourage you to write a letter to the editor expressing your views on why public school curricula must remain secular. As a local citizen, your voice carries weight with local papers and is far more likely to get published.
How to write a letter to the editor:
Writing a letter to the editor is easier than you think. Keep your letter short, polite and to the point (between 100 and 250 words). Tell a story about your personal connection to this issue as a secular community member, and make sure to inform them if you are a local resident and that you read the paper you’re writing to.
Send your letter to:
318-747-7900 ext. 104
Letters to the editor are a powerful advocacy tool. Elected officials often monitor local letters to the editor, and they allow you to bring a secular perspective to a larger audience. Please let us know if your letter is published!
Please join FFRF in telling the Biden administration that your taxes must not be used to fund religion. Act now so your voice counts.
The White House is accepting official comments through Friday, Feb. 12, on a proposal that would permit continued use of taxpayer money to “bail out” churches.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the Trump administration trampled long-standing rules and exploited economic relief programs to unconstitutionally fund houses of worship with billions of dollars in taxpayer money. We now need to ensure the regulations that allowed for this do not become permanent. Read FFRF’s full statement on the proposed rule changes.
The corruption and abuse of these church bailouts has already been well documented. If the proposed Small Business Administration rules are finalized, your tax dollars will continue to be siphoned off to churches indefinitely.
Please help ensure that American taxpayers are not footing the bill for religious activities. You can oppose both rules by submitting comments on the public comment pages for these rules. Feel free to use or adapt the talking points provided or write your own. It just takes a minute or two for your voice to be heard.
As a secular American, I urge you not to remove long-standing protections that prohibit taxpayer funding of churches. I strongly object to my tax dollars going to support houses of worship. Such funding violates the revered principle of separation between state and church.
First, mandatory financial support of religious institutions on the American taxpayer is a profound infringement on First Amendment rights of conscience. That is why long-standing rules have historically prohibited SBA funds from going to houses of worship in the first place. Do not allow these safeguards to fall away permanently.
Additionally, since taxpayer funds were funneled to churches through Covid-19 relief programs less than a year ago, there has already been widespread abuse reported. These religious institutions are financial black holes with no accountability to the American taxpayers, and therefore must not receive public money.
A public school basketball coach in Michigan has been asked to stop praying with his team after the Freedom From Religion Foundation contacted his school district.
A district parent informed FFRF that a Wyandot Middle School basketball coach had been leading his students in prayer before basketball games. According to the parent, the coach would have the players gather in a circle, make them hold hands and then say a prayer. When he finished saying his prayer, he would ask any of the players if they wanted to say a prayer.
FFRF Legal Fellow Dante CH Harootunian sent a letter to Chippewa Valley Schools Superintendent Ronald Roberts urging the district to stop any and all prayers occurring within any school athletic programs.
“Public school coaches must refrain not only from leading prayers themselves, but also from participating in students’ prayers,” Harootunian wrote. “It is unconstitutional for public school employees to participate in the religious activities of their students.”
Assistant Superintendent Adam Blanchard sent a letter of response indicating that the district took this issue seriously and that it has taken steps to ensure coaches are not endorsing or joining in on prayer.
The coach, the district wrote, “has been informed that his involvement in this type of religious activity cannot occur during school or a school event.”
FFRF commends the district for quickly taking action to remedy this issue and for working to ensure that all student athletes feel like full and welcome members of the district community. Given that almost two-fifths of younger Americans — those born after 1987 — are nonreligious, this sort of proselytization in schools is not only unconstitutional, but particularly exclusionary.
“We applaud the Chippewa Valley School district for swiftly addressing this complaint,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Students in our public schools should never have to pray to play.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 33,500 members across the country, including more than 800 members in Michigan. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is formally asking the Biden administration not to adopt Trump-era regulations allowing for the unprecedented funneling of taxpayer money to religious institutions.
The national state/church watchdog is conveying its formal objections to the public bailouts of churches during the pandemic to the Small Business Administration during the public comment period ending this Friday, Feb. 12.
If the SBA proposals to continue church bailouts are finalized, these would permanently remove critical provisions that ensure tax dollars don’t fund businesses if they are “principally engaged in teaching, instructing, counseling or indoctrinating religion or religious beliefs, whether in a religious or secular setting.” FFRF highlights three major flaws in the removal of these essential safeguards.
First, giving taxpayer funds to houses of worship clearly violates the First Amendment.
“The SBA’s proposed rules to remove the prohibition against granting funds for religious purposes amount to a mandatory tithe on every citizen,” FFRF maintains. “The government’s coercive taxing power should not be wielded to oblige Muslims to bankroll temples, to coerce Jews to subsidize Christian and Catholic churches, to force Christians to fund mosques, or to compel the nonreligious to support any of the above.”
Second, FFRF maintains, wherever taxpayer funds go, there must be accountability and transparency.
Unlike other 501(c)(3) nonprofits, churches file no financial information with the IRS and the public, making them financial black holes. Because they lack financial transparency and accountability, churches are already rife with fraud and abuse. Institutions that lack any accountability to the American people should not be funded by taxpayer dollars.
Lastly, FFRF contends, public money must not be used to fund discrimination.
Current SBA regulations require that recipients of SBA loans "reflect to the fullest extent possible the nondiscrimination policies of the federal government.” However, the entity has also issued guidance casting aside these protections, stating that “no faith-based organization will be excluded from receiving funding because . . . employment by the organization is limited to persons who share its religious faith and practice.” This guidance incorrectly portrays the religious exemption as significantly broader than SBA’s regulations. Treating religious belief as a license to discriminate violates the First Amendment.
From the start of the pandemic, the Trump administration exploited economic relief programs to unconstitutionally fund houses of worship with billions in taxpayer money. As soon as the initial interim rule allowing Paycheck Protection Program funds to go to churches was implemented, FFRF warned it violated the First Amendment and would open the door for widespread misuse of taxpayer dollars.
A bombshell recent Associated Press report exposes the ongoing abuse of taxpayer funds going to the Catholic Church. According to AP, “scores of Catholic dioceses across the U.S. received aid through the Paycheck Protection Program while sitting on well over $10 billion in cash, short-term investments or other available funds.”
If the proposed SBA rules are finalized, this boondoggle will continue indefinitely and any number of new avenues for churches to siphon public money will emerge.
“The Trump administration trampled longstanding rules and raided taxpayer pocketbooks to ensure its religious base received colossal handouts,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The Biden administration must ensure these unconstitutional subsidies are not allowed to continue.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 33,500 members and many chapters across the country. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.
The Arkansas Legislature is advancing a dangerous bill that would effectively ban abortion in the state. Please take a few moments to urge your lawmakers to oppose this bill.
If passed, SB 6 would outlaw abortion except to save the life of the pregnant person or to end an ectopic pregnancy. This extremist legislation says that Roe v. Wade is a “gross injustice” and a “crime against humanity” and, shockingly, even compares abortion to the enslavement and disenfranchisement of African-Americans.
The bill codifies into law beliefs not based on science or morality, but on religion and so-called holy books. The Christian Right has been and remains the primary opponent to women’s reproductive rights. This bill is sponsored by state Rep. Jason Rapert, a Christian Nationalist whom FFRF sued in 2018 after his Ten Commandments monument was erected at the state Capitol.
The Arkansas Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor has a hearing on this bill TOMORROW, Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 2 p.m. Please use our simple, automated system to contact all members of this committee and urge them to oppose this bill. Feel free to use or adapt the talking points provided.
The Oklahoma Legislature is once more considering a bill that would require all state buildings to install giant “In God We Trust” displays. Our members helped to stop an identical bill last year, but we need to stop it again.
Please take action to help ensure that Oklahoma residents are not subjected to government-sponsored Christian proselytizing.
This bill, HB 2085, is part of a nationwide legislative push termed Project Blitz. Project Blitz seeks to inject state legislatures with a whole host of religious bills, imposing the theocratic version of a powerful few on We The People. It is an unvarnished attack on American secularism and civil liberties — those things we cherish most about our democracy and now must tirelessly defend.
While politicians claim these measures are intended to showcase the national motto or inspire patriotism, it is clear that their true purpose is to peddle religiosity to a captive audience. These laws are about advancing the Big Lie that the United States was “founded on God” or Christianity, dismantling the wall of separation between religion and government.
The House States Rights Committee has a hearing scheduled on this bill on Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 9 a.m. Click on the red “Take Action” link below to use our simple, automated system to contact all members of the committee and urge them to oppose this bill. Feel free to use or adapt the talking points provided. Personalized messages are always the most impactful! We encourage you to watch the hearing live online if you are able.