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I have watched with some trepidation the evolution (or is it devolution?) of the faith-based initiative in the Obama Administration.  The latest straw in the wind may be pretty close to the last one for me.

Essentially , the Obama Administration has excluded the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from its anti-human trafficking initiative because the USCCB will not provide a full range of family planning services to the victims of sex trafficking.  Over at Mirror of Justice, our friend Rick Garnett passes along an acquaintance’s views of these developments.  A snippet:

Based on the facts that have come out regarding Obama political appointees’ interference in the grant-making process, one is left with two impressions: (1) the anti-sex trafficking program is being politicized and manipulated in service to the radical pro-choice agenda set forth by this Administration and its HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius and (2) this latest development in the state’s attempt to crowd out highly-qualified religious social service providers that actually adhere to the fundamental tenets of their faith reveals, among other troubling things, what little regard this Administration has for the religious liberties of individuals and religious organizations and what an utter farce the Administration’s Neighborhood and Community Partnerships office is. . . .

When it rolled out its version of the FBCI, the Administration suggested that it was still open to partnering with qualified religious (as well as secular service providers), but it would do so in a fair manner.  What it didn’t emphasize was that, regardless of the equal treatment regulations still on the books, its version of “partnership” entailed a return to the pre-Bush FBCI era, where hostility towards committed religious providers and outmoded strains of Establishment Clause jurisprudence prevailed.

Given the fantastic performance of the USCCB in its coordination of anti-trafficking victims services in past grant years and the determination by career officials and an independent review board that it was significantly more highly qualified than at least two of the three subsequent grant awardees (who were actually deemed “unqualified”), HHS’s denial of the grant to USCCB is highly suspect indeed.  In fact, if one considers this case in light of the Administration’s track record on religious liberties and conscience protections, it is difficult to conclude anything but that USCCB was discriminated against because of its adherence to the Catholic church’s teachings regarding human dignity and sexuality.  Accordingly, HHS’s actions appear to be unlawfully discriminatory AND fly in the face of the Administration’s own rules with respect to partnerships between faith-based organizations and government.

I find it difficult to see how the Obama Administration can be friendly to religious diversity in the provision of social services (the point of the faith-based initiative) if it makes demands of its partners that go against their moral and doctrinal commitments.  To be sure, the groups need not apply to participate in the programs.  They’re free not to participate, in other words.  But when a government seeks to dominate the provision of social services, when it only grudgingly (if at all) accommodates religious conscience, when it consistently tries to raise taxes and reduce charitable deductions, and when it is devoted to the extension of its regulatory reach, it becomes harder and harder to find room for religious groups to fulfill their missions.

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