Friday, January 22, 2010

Primer on the Establishment Clause.

Thanks to Christian News Online, here's a nice, clean primer on the Establishment clause and the Supreme Courts undulating approach to it's interpretation. An excerpt:

Outside the realm of case law, much has been made of President George W. Bush's faith based initiative in 2001 that opened the door to government funding for pervasively Christian and other religious organizations. What gave him the opportunity was a provision of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act passed by President Bill Clinton called charitable choice.

Before charitable choice, the only Christian and other religious organizations to receive government funds disbursed social services via a separate nonprofit organization that they set up solely for that purpose. Since charitable choice, pervasively Christian and other religious organizations have had equal access to federal bids and grants that allow them to provide social services.

Some wondered if charitable choice was constitutional. A Court decision in 1997, Agostini v. Felton, cleared the air even though the case was not about charitable choice. Here Justice O'Connor partially rewrote the Lemon test so that the third prong supplements the second. She added two other qualifiers. Recipients of government funding still must ensure it serves a valid secular purpose and does not advance religion.

But to satisfy the "does not advance religion" prong, they must only ensure that the aid:

  • is not being used for religious indoctrination
  • defines the eligibility of participating organizations without regard to religion
  • does not create excessive government entanglement

From the time of Everson, the Court had demanded that government funding for Christian and other religious organizations be indirect. Agostini, however, suggested that direct aid could be okay.

When Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed into law the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, the executive and legislative branches approved charitable choice and direct aid to Christian and other religious organizations.

President Barack Obama shows no signs of disapproval. The accomadationist tendencies in our government will continue into the foreseeable future -- at least until separationist justices replace accomadationist justices on the High Court. The period since Charitable Choice and the faith Based Initiative has now ingrained the accomadationist perspective into government grant funding programs.

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