President Trump’s recent executive order that refashioned the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives – a system for delivering humanitarian aid via religious organizations – made a small but significant change to the system’s requirements that has some religious leaders upset.
A portion of text that required religious groups using taxpayer funds to find appropriate alternatives for applicants who would rather not be preached to before receiving assistance has been removed.
Marc Stern, the counsel for the American Jewish Committee, said the now moot requirement protected the starving man from having to listen to a sermon before entering a soup kitchen for a meal.
“It’s always been thought that the provision of an alternative is an essential element of preserving religious liberty,” Stern said in an interview. “Dropping it is more than a step backward. Forced sermons remind us” — Jews — “of efforts at various times to make us listen to conversionary sermons.”
The section in question was added by former President Barack Obama and was intended to keep the line between church and state sufficiently clear; opponents of Trump’s change feel that line is now blurred.
The order “puts America’s most vulnerable citizens at risk of choosing between accessing essential, taxpayer-funded social services and being subject to unwanted proselytizing or religious activity,” the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement.
“Any White House faith-based initiative must uphold and enhance constitutional protections for the separation of church and state and protect the rights of all people, regardless of their faith,” the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center said.
Conservative religious groups have chafed at the Obama-imposed restrictions, saying they inhibited productive partnerships with proven relief providers. Michelle Boorstein, The Washington Post religion correspondent, tweeted a quote from an unnamed Trump administration official saying the idea behind this week’s order was to launch programs “without all of these arbitrary concerns as to what is appropriate.”