The Secularist Objection to Faith-Based Funding

For Immediate Release: May 19, 2009
Contact: Nathan Bupp, Vice President of Communications - (207) 358-9785

Amherst, NY –Coming on the heels of a new Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life report that explores the debate over whether and how the government should fund faith-based institutions,

Free Inquiry

magazine, published by the Council for Secular Humanism, takes a careful yet critical look at the continuing practice of faith-based funding under the Obama administration in its June/July 2009 issue.

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

authored by Daniel Horowitz, J.D., and Ruth Mitchell, Ph.D., is a letter-for-letter reprint of a position paper released by the Office of Public Policy, the lobbying arm of the Center for Inquiry (CFI), a supporting organization of the Council for Secular Humanism. The paper was crafted in response to President Obama’s decision to expand government funding for so-called "faith-based initiatives." The article expresses deep misgivings about government funding of sectarian religious programs and raises concerns that these programs may use taxpayer dollars to support or favor religious activities and beliefs. A further concern is that the government may give preference to particular religious organizations in doling out taxpayer funds. 

CFI’s position paper recommends that government funding of faith-based programs be eliminated entirely, although it does allow for a limited exception 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. The article also recommends certain minimum safeguards that should be implemented and enforced if taxpayer funding of faith-based programs continues. Among the recommendations, CFI asserts that:


• Programs should be barred from discriminating against both beneficiaries and employees on the basis of religion.

• Such programs should be monitored vigorously 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.

Historian Susan Jacoby, author of

The Age of American Unreason

, provides a sort of history lesson in her article “Keeping the Faith, Ignoring the History,” by pointing out, with irony, that in today’s political climate nearly everyone assumes that it is constitutionally permitted for the state to fund social services run by religious organizations when in fact, “the United States managed to exist for over two hundred years without the government providing any direct aid to faith and its work.”  Jacoby traces the gradual acceptance of this government intrusion beginning with President Clinton’s “charitable choice” provision in his welfare-reform bill (the start of this slippery slope) to the establishment, under President Bush, of a White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, right up the current expansion of this funding under President Obama. Jacoby concludes that “It is truly dismaying that there has been such a widespread reluctance to question the basic assumption that government can spend money on religiously based enterprises without violating the First Amendment.”   

In “The Faith-Based Initiative 2.0: Can We Unplug It?” First Amendment policy analyst Rob Boston reviews six specific policy proposals that if adopted would help maintain the integrity of church-state separation, even though Obama has green-lighted these initiatives for the foreseeable future. 

Free Inquiry is a bimonthly magazine featuring thoughtful and provocative commentary from such leading political and social commentators as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Wendy Kaminer, and Nat Hentoff. Established in 1980, Free Inquiry has a paid circulation of approximately 34,000 worldwide. Visit online at


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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