Faith-Based Organizations and the Obama Administration

I have been avoiding politics on the blog, though I am avid political junkie. I have decided that, because it’s an area in which I have some expertise and experience, I would provide you with my thoughts on this topic.

Often we lose sight of the importance that faith-based nonprofits have played in our nation’s history. From churches to soup kitchens these institutions have shepherded us, fed us, healed us, and have educated us. Currently, with the destruction of Sandy on the eastern seaboard, groups such as Samaritan Purse are providing on-the-ground support for families (you can donate here).

A healthy non-profit sector opens the door to less government and greater civil life. It’s my view that as a society we should be encouraging non-profit activities and do so with economic incentives. These should be applied fairly, regardless of religious affiliation but not by discriminating against religion or faith-based organizations. This is what I see happening with the present Obama administration.

My question for today is: How does the Obama administration regard faith-based non-profits?

The first thing that stands out to me is the Obama administration’s handling of the HHS policy on employer mandated contraceptive benefits. I am not opposed to contraception. However, our government is making religious institutions, particularly Catholic organizations, participate in the delivery of contraception against their will. I think there will be a significant number of Catholic voters who take this into account on Election Day. Evangelicals should also pay attention to this issue. While Evangelicals typically do not forbid contraception like Catholics, the idea that the government is forcing Catholics to include this in insurance coverage is chilling.

Another change that the Obama team was wrought on the non-profit world is what I call “onerous bureaucracy” in the form of required paperwork for non-profit activity. Mostly private sector abuses produced a rise in government-mandated oversight in what is called the “Sarbanes-Oxley.” I fault nobody’s intention here: people want our businesses and non-profits to operate with transparency and effective management. That’s a good thing. This set of regulations, however, increases legal and audit costs unreasonably. Keep in mind that many non-profits are “kitchen table” organizations: they are small and have limited funds. While Sarbanes-Oxley does have a “sliding scale” regarding the amount of oversight (larger organizations are required to have more oversight than smaller ones) the impact is wasted time and money. Do these new regulations help? I don’t think they help much. Frankly, I don’t see this changing much under a Romney administration. To be fair, this sort of regulation precedes the Obama administration. Yet, it provides an open door to government intrusion and my trust level for the current administration to restrain themselves from interference is nil.

Federal policy mandating anti-discrimination policy is another issue facing non-profits, particularly religious non-profits. For example, USAID, the official humanitarian and development branch of the US government, has been directed by the Obama administration to strongly encourage all contractors to develop anti-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation. In other words, if you are a non-profit delivering services through a grant or program of USAID you must adopt a pro-gay-rights view of civil rights. This is the strategy that homosexual rights advocates are using to stop Christian teaching on the immorality of homosexuality. Since many religiously affiliated organizations provide the sorts of aid services USAID might want to see delivered, this policy discriminates against religious organizations (see this link for more info on this).

In 2010 (and subsequent years), the Obama administration proposed limiting charitable donations made by wealthy donors (see this link and this one). This is a direct attack by the administration on charities’ ability to raise funds. I am amazed it hasn’t gotten more press than it has and, fortunately, it hasn’t been able to pass muster with congress.

Some might argue that President Obama does care about faith-based partnerships because he created the “White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships” (see this link).  I personally am not aware of any ways it has helped the religious non-profit sector. I would be very interested to learn how it has helped so please let me know your thoughts on this.

The election process has produced a stark contrast between President Obama’s giving to charity versus Governor Romney’s giving. The lack of personal giving on the part of our president is one of my greatest concerns about President Obama. For somebody who has been a “community activist” I would think that there would be a serious appreciation for the role of charities in society. The organizations with which he has been affiliated are, of course, supported by donations and grants. In spite of this, the current administration has whittled away at the rights and privileges that faith-based organizations have enjoyed for many years.

Numerous studies contrasting giving by liberals and conservatives reveal a huge discrepancy. Klein shows that liberals give to secular causes while conservatives give to faith-based initiatives (this is the article here). Klein is wrong about one thing: liberals and conservatives do not give at the same rate. Conservatives give far more to charitable causes, particularly faith-based causes, than liberals do (here is an article about it, and here is another one – there are lots – there is even a cool interactive tool you can use). Before you flame me with comments about how unfair I am to make this statement, check the data! An interesting note is that Utah – the Mormon bee hive – is the most generous state and I bet most of that is going to support the Mormon machine.

From my perspective, liberals tend to see government as the answer and therefore they subconsciously (and often consciously) consider taxes as a part of what they “give.” Liberals have made the contention that paying taxes is patriotic. That is a redefinition of “I gave at the office,” which makes me cringe. It’s also one of the reasons why I will not be pulling the handle for President Obama in this election cycle.

If you work for a faith-based non-profit or believe in giving to them I would suggest you do a little research on this before casting a ballot for President Obama. He has not been friendly toward us and it’s a bit scary to think what will happen in the next four years. Since this is (in his own words) “his last election.” We might be in for some pretty big surprises.

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