How Christian Groups Push Right-Wing Religion With the Help of Your Tax Dollars
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In addition to Texas, at least six other states — Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania — currently fund crisis pregnancy centers. Collectively, for the current fiscal year, they are allocating approximately $17 million to these anti-abortion centers.
The centers are generally barred from using state money to promote their faith, but many still use religion to make hiring decisions. True Life Choice in Orlando — one of the 80 or so facilities funded by Florida’s pregnancy center program — is looking for an executive director who is a “committed Christian who demonstrates a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.”
A handful of anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers have also received indirect funding from the federal government during the Obama administration.
The Care Net facility in Rapid City, for example, was awarded a piece of a million-dollar stimulus grant given to South Dakota’s Chiesman Center for Democracy to help nonprofits and faith-based organizations address issues within their local communities that were exacerbated by the global economic crisis. According to a report on this stimulus project, called the Strengthening Communities Fund, applicant organizations were evaluated based on their objectives and need for assistance, their organizational profile, and their approach. The money that each organization got had to be used for capacity-building purposes but not for direct services.
Chiesman’s principal evaluator and researcher, Helen Usera, told TAI in an email that her organization provided capacity-building training and technical assistance to 19 nonprofits, including Black Hills Area Habitat for Humanity, Black Hills State University, and Northern Hills Alcohol and Drug Services.
“Care Net focused on board development which included strategic planning, hiring a consultant to provide facilitation of the strategic planning, and updating bylaws,” Usera said. “In addition, they were able to send staff to various trainings in the areas of fund raising and marketing. Another area they were able to focus on was upgrading technology.”
The center itself did not respond to requests for comment.
Usera said that Chiesman did not select any of the sub-grantees who participated in the project; they were chosen by a team of independent reviewers unaffiliated with the foundation.
Asked about the Care Net grant, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families told TAI: “All grantees and any sub recipients are required to follow the law and provide the services described under the terms and conditions of the grant. We are currently reviewing this particular situation.”
While federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on religious beliefs, there is an exception for religious organizations — a category that seems to include the Rapid City center and other CPCs. And in many cases, it’s perfectly legal for these groups to receive taxpayer funding, even if they practice religious hiring discrimination.
Texas’ Alternatives to Abortion Services Program, which annually draws in $4.15 million in taxpayer funding, is managed by the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, a nonprofit headquartered in Austin. Stephanie Goodman, the spokesperson for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which oversees the program, told TAI that the commission does not have a specific policy on Christian groups that discriminate in hiring, but she said the state follows the federal “Charitable Choice” laws and requires the TPCN to do the same.
“Charitable Choice” refers to provisions in federal laws passed beginning in the late 1990s, which apply to various federal grant programs, such as the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. Generally, the laws specify that faith-based organizations cannot be excluded from competition for federal funds; they may consider their religious beliefs in hiring and firing employees (but they cannot use religion as an excuse not to hire for other things like race or gender); and they cannot use federal funds to support any inherently religious activities, such as worship or religious instruction. President George W. Bush expanded these exceptions, more broadly exempting religious organizations that receive federal contracts from rules that bar religious discrimination in hiring.