On Monday, July 21, 2014, President Obama signed an executive order barring government contractors from discriminating against transgendered people and homosexuals. The order did not exempt religious institutions, many of which act as “government contractors” by providing traditional charity-type services that would otherwise fall to government bureaus. Under the new restrictions, these religious institutions can have their federal funding cut off if there is even a “threat” that they may violate the provisions of the president’s executive order. So, the government will be doling out funds to support the ministries of liberal churches whose religious beliefs are amenable to hiring homosexual church staff, while more traditional religious groups will likely be denied the same government support.
The First Amendment admonishes the government to “make no law respecting an establishment of religion. . .” This provision has been interpreted very broadly through the years, to include government action that would favor one religious tradition over another. So that, for instance, Christmas trees may be displayed on government land as long as they are accompanied by Jewish menorahs and Muslim crescent moons.
By the same token, when religious institutions act as government contractors, the government must be very careful not to show preference for one religious tradition over another. Remember the liberal hand-wringing over President Bush’s Faith-Based Initiative? As overwrought as some of the liberal concerns were, they were also, to a certain extent, well-founded. Not because President Bush wanted to establish a theocracy as some on the looney left complained, but because such a program puts the government in a position to financially support – or withdraw support from – religious institutions. Inherent in this setup lies the possibility of corrupting both church and state. Churches may be forced to warp their values to comply with state edicts. And the government could effectively set up a state church by funding the types of institutions it likes, and pulling funding from the institutions that it doesn’t like. That threat, which lay dormant during the Bush years, was activated Monday by President Obama’s executive order.
In the lead up to the president signing the executive order, many clergymen petitioned the president on this issue of religious exemption. But not all of them were for it. A broad coalition of theologians requested a religious exemption from the new rules. And a group of liberal theologians argued against a religious exemption. Both sides, surely, had their faith-based reasons, founded on biblical notions of sexual morality, or Christian charity, or liberation theology, or whatever.
Had the president come down on the side of the broad coalition of theologians, he would have maintained practical neutrality. That is, both liberal and traditional religious organizations would have been able to continue following their articles of faith without giving up government funds. But instead, the president (unsurprisingly) sided with the smaller group of liberal theologians. As a result, his executive order will bar – or at least deter – traditional organizations from accepting government funds as contractors. But there will be no such bar to liberal religious groups. The president, therefore, has set up a situation where the government will make funds available for liberal churches, but not traditional ones.
While a large portion of funding of religious programs comes in the form of contracts, even more government money is provided in the form of grants. For now, the gender and sexual orientation rules governing distribution of this grant money have an exemption for religious institutions. But how long will that last?
In recent years, The ACLU has made a mockery of itself (and constitutional jurisprudence) by claiming that publicly displayed Christian crosses or copies of the Ten Commandments constitute a violation of the Establishment Clause. But now, the president of the United States has passed an executive order that will direct funding to religious groups whose beliefs are favored by the administration. But for some reason, I doubt the ACLU will take the case.
Unless otherwise stated, these are the opinions of RT Vaden.