‘Safeguarding Religious Liberty in Charitable Choice and Faith-Based Initiatives’

For Immediate Release: February 6, 2009
Contact: Henry Huber, Assistant Director of Communications
press@centerforinquiry.org - (207) 358-9785

 CFI Position Paper Addresses Shortcomings and Solutions

The Obama administration recently announced an expansion of government funding for George W. Bush’s “faith-based initiatives,” in which taxpayer dollars are directed to sectarian religious organizations for social service programs.  This expanded funding—approved by Executive Order signed Feb. 5—continues to raise legal and constitutional concerns, including the possible use of taxpayer dollars to support or favor religious activities and beliefs; the potential for fund-distribution preference for particular religious organizations; and the allowance of employment discrimination on the basis of religion by recipients of taxpayer monies.

On Feb. 6, the Center for Inquiry produced a position paper titled

“Safeguarding Religious Liberty in Charitable Choice and Faith Based Initiatives,”

that called for an end to government funding of faith-based programs. But since this objective is unlikely to be realized at this time, the CFI paper also recommended the adoption and vigorous enforcement of specific minimum safeguards to protect church-state separation and religious liberty.

The CFI position paper recommends, in part:

  • Participating programs should be barred from discriminating against both beneficiaries and employees on the basis of religion
  • Strict demarcation of social service and sectarian funds to ensure that public money does not replace or bolster existing donation-based expenses
  • Programs should be monitored closely to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to fund religious worship, instruction, or proselytization
  • Government must treat programs conducted by religious and secular organizations equally in granting funds, measuring performance, and monitoring for compliance.
  • Limited exceptions for truly secular social services programs, such as Catholic Charities, that have some affiliation with a religious institution but are provided by independent 501(c)(3) charities.

While President Obama declared that he firmly supports the principle of separation of church and state in his new Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, CFI founder and chairman Paul Kurtz reminded him of his campaign promise not to permit employment discrimination in faith-based programs—a holdover provision from the Bush Administration that remains untouched in the new funding directive. “We urge President Obama to eliminate any programs of religious organizations misusing social services federal tax dollars,” Kurtz said. 

Eddie Tabash, constitutional lawyer and chairman of the Council for Secular Humanism’s First Amendment Task Force, stressed that the law should be upheld in compliance with prevailing constitutional standards. “If the government is giving direct financial assistance to any religious affiliated organization for purposes of funding a program of that organization, then the recipient of government money should not be able to discriminate in hiring.”  

CFI President and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay expressed disappointment that President Obama had decided to continue to use sectarian organizations as a vehicle for delivering government-funded social services. “While the Obama administration may eliminate some of the worst abuses of faith-based funding, the whole program is fundamentally flawed,” Lindsay said. “Dropping off taxpayer dollars at the church, temple, or mosque door is neither a prudent nor a constitutional way to provide needed services.” 

The executive order establishing the new Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships was signed on the same day as the National Prayer Breakfast, where in his speech Obama referred three times to humanists and secular groups, which he pledged will have equal opportunities with religious organizations to receive federal funds for social services. While the Center for Inquiry is encouraged that the president’s announcement clearly includes secular organizations, and a voiced intention to maintain the separation of church and state, it will remain vigilant to protect constitutional and human rights. 

A .pdf of the Center for Inquiry position paper may be downloaded below.   

CFI’s position paper on charitable choice and faith based initiatives was authored by Daniel Horowitz, J.D., and Ruth Mitchell, Ph.D.  Mr. Horowitz is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law.  He has worked in private practice and the government for 30 years, specializing in the field of federal income taxation. Dr. Mitchell is a graduate of Oxford University, and received her Ph.D. from UCLA.  She is a writer, researcher, and analyst in CFI’s Office of Public Policy in Washington, D.C. The Center for Inquiry/Transnational is a nonprofit, educational, advocacy, and scientific-research think tank based in Amherst, New York, and is also home to the Council for Secular Humanism, founded in 1980; the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP), founded in 1976. The Center’s Web site is


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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at centerforinquiry.org.