Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Faith-Based Under Fire.

From Tampa Bay Online, a success story on the court's striking down "faith-based" programs that are given government funding for necessary social services. I don't mind social services; I do mind providing them in exchange for prayer. Calling yourself a ministry (as the Catholic Church calls their massive health care network) is a giant sign that the funded group is working for a higher power.

That's not all bad, but it often works as coercion of desperate, needy people. I hope we hear more stories like this in the future. The "food for prayer" faith-based program, instituted by Bush and maintained as the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Initiatives by Obama (who's on my shit list today after giving so much away to the GOP on health care) is a direct violation of separation of church and state. Using religious organizations to aid our needy members of society is crossing a line that should never be crossed.

An appeals court has found that Florida's use of "faith-based" substance abuse programs for inmates released from prison violates the state Constitution.

In an opinion filed today, a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal reversed a circuit court judge's finding that the state's contract with Prisoners of Christ and Lamb of God Ministries was constitutional. The appeals court found that the contract violates the "no-aid" provision barring the state from spending taxpayer money "directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution."

Prisoners of Christ and Lamb of God Ministries are nonprofit Christian organizations that contract with the state to provide faith-based drug and alcohol abuse rehabilitative services to inmates released from prison.

Prisoners of Christ is based in Jacksonville and Lamb of God Ministries is located in Okeechobee. Both organizations describe themselves as "ministries," according to the court's analysis.

The Council for Secular Humanism, a New York-based advocacy group that promotes separation of church and state, filed the suit against the state in May 2007 in Leon County. Circuit Court Judge John Cooper ruled in the state's favor in October 2008.

In their ruling, the appellate court judges wrote that "the inquiry here is whether the programs … are predominantly religious in nature and whether the programs promote the religious mission of the organizations receiving the funds," in violation of the no-aid provision.

The judges found that Cooper erred by not applying their prior ruling in another church-and-state case: Bush v. Holmes. That 2006 case went on to the state Supreme Court and ultimately struck down a school voucher program that spent state dollars on private schools, some of them sectarian.

In that case, the 1st DCA found that the Opportunity Scholarship Program violated the no-aid provision. The Supreme Court ruled against the voucher program on other grounds but did not reverse the 1st DCA's opinion.

In today's ruling, the 1st DCA ruled that "the trial court was erroneously persuaded by appellees that this court's decision in Holmes I was limited explicitly to the school context. The Holmes I decision did not limit its analysis to a 'schools only' context," and therefore applies in this case as well.

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