Sunday, March 01, 2009

Analysis: Constitutional or Unconstitutional? (or does the whole thing just suck "Lemons"!)

Archive for Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Obama calls for more federal faith-based funding to assist poor
In Ohio, the Democratic candidate focuses on religion during a week in which he is discussing values issues. In Indiana, McCain promises to veto ‘every bill with earmarks.’

By Michael Muskal and Robin AbcarianJuly 02, 2008
Zanesville, Ohio – Stepping into the thorny territory of church-state relations, Democrat Barack Obama today called for more federal dollars devoted to faith-based organizations that work with the poor.

Obama, a former community organizer, toured the Eastside Community Ministry, an arm of Central Presbyterian Church, which operates a food bank and provides other services for the poor.

“As I’ve said many times, I believe that change comes not from the top down, but from the bottom up, and few are closer to the people than our churches, synagogues, temples and mosques,” the likely Democratic presidential nominee said.

“The challenges we face today – from saving our planet to ending poverty – are simply too big for government to solve alone,” he said. “We need all hands on deck.”

On Monday, Obama began a week of focusing on values by speaking about patriotism. Today, he explored his relationship to religion, an area that created problems during the primary after his former pastor made disparaging comments about the United States.

“I didn’t grow up in a particularly religious household,” Obama said. “But my experience in Chicago showed me how faith and values could be an anchor in my life.

“And in time, I came to see my faith as being both a personal commitment to Christ and a commitment to my community; that while I could sit in church and pray all I want, I wouldn’t be fulfilling God’s will unless I went out and did the Lord’s work,” he said

Obama’s outlined proposals including a new Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and $500 million a year to fund summer teaching programs. In his speech, Obama cited past efforts by both Democrats and conservative Republicans to combine faith and federal funding.

“Leaders in both parties have recognized the value of a partnership between the White House and faith-based groups,” Obama said. “President Clinton signed legislation that opened the door for faith-based groups to play a role in a number of areas, including helping people move from welfare to work. Al Gore proposed a partnership between Washington and faith-based groups to provide more support for the least of these.

“And President Bush came into office with a promise to ‘rally the armies of compassion,’ establishing a new Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives,” Obama said.

Obama’s proposals would also allow religious charities that receive federal funding to consider religion in employment decisions, and that could create some problems for liberals who support a sharper divide between church and state. The Illinois senator said he was aware of the issues but insisted his plans would satisfy both ends of the political spectrum.

“Make no mistake, as someone who used to teach constitutional law, I believe deeply in the separation of church and state, but I don’t believe this partnership will endanger that idea – so long as we follow a few basic principles,” Obama said.

“First, if you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them – or against the people you hire – on the basis of their religion. Second, federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples, and mosques can only be used on secular programs. And we’ll also ensure that taxpayer dollars only go to those programs that actually work.”

The Obama campaign also distributed a statement from John DiIulio, who in 2001 was director of President Bush’s White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, backing Obama’s proposals.

“His plan reminds me of much that was best in both then-Vice President Al Gore’s and then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s respective first speeches on the subject in 1999,” DiIulio stated.

“His constitutionally sound and administratively feasible ideas about community-serving partnerships hold special promise for truly disadvantaged children, youth, and families.”
While Obama focused on religion, his likely Republican opponent campaigned on law-and-order issues in Indianapolis before embarking on a trip to Latin America.

John McCain took a tough stand in a speech at the National Sheriffs’ Assn.’s 68th annual conference, where he insisted that his criminal justice policies would also make available resources needed for law enforcement.

“In all of criminal justice policy, we must put the interests of law-abiding citizens first – and above all the rights of victims,” McCain said. “We must give active support to officers of the peace across America, by providing the tools you need to meet new dangers.”

McCain also emphasized the need to appoint judges with “a proven record of excellence in the law, and a proven commitment to judicial restraint. They will be the kind of judges who believe in giving everyone in a criminal court their due: justice for the guilty and the innocent, compassion for the victims, and respect for the men and women of law enforcement.”

McCain also returned to one of his favorite subjects, his crusade against congressional earmarks, calling such appropriations “the broken windows of the federal budget process” – a reference to the theory that small urban problems, unattended, lead to more serious decline.

Lawmakers, he said, too often distribute Justice Department funds “according to their value to the reelection of members of Congress instead of their value to police.”

“And that’s why, as president, I will veto every bill with earmarks,” he said. “It may take a while for Congress to adjust, but sooner or later they’ll figure out that there’s a new sheriff in town.”

McCain also touted his support for legislation to increase penalties for violent felons who commit crimes with guns or on behalf of gangs, improvements to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System for firearms purchases, the increase in fines paid by criminals into the Federal Crime Victims fund, and better communications technology for law enforcement agencies.

He has authored a bill, he said, that would add 10 years to the sentence of anyone convicted of using the Internet in the commission of a crime against a child.

He drew loud applause when he said the federal government “has failed to protect our borders … and this serious dereliction of duty must end.” If elected, he vowed, “we will require that the federal government assume more of the costs to deport and detain criminal aliens – because this is a problem of the federal government’s own making.”
Abcarian reported from the McCain campaign in Indiana and staff writer Peter Nicholas contributed from the Obama campaign in Ohio. Muskal reported from Los Angeles.


mlowe1191 said...

Well 1st off this is from the city i was born in...sorry random fact :)

But It for sure is flirting with the line of unconstituional...but i think if he spreds the money based on resorces offerd and not by what religon they pracitce it should be ok, i also believe that they should have to show proof of where the money goes so it proves they are not just useing the money for somthing other then its intended propose.

MattC said...

I am sure that it can be effectively argued that this funding is in fact illegal, but it also makes a lot of sense. Obama is right in that the poor often turn towards religious establishment for help in troubled times. Giving money to a church, per say, makes me feel a lot better with how the money is being handled, than if it was handled by the federal government. I think it works and is far more efficient than what government bureaucracy could ever hope to achieve.

All in all, I'm happy that Obama is far more interested in the safety and well being of the people in such needy times; it goes to show that no matter how much we argue, there are people who desperately need a helping hand. To me it's a great message to send to Americans, who I believe, have for so long been out of touch with their humanity.

Jessie R said...

I believe that it would be constitutional to give money to the religious places. However, Obama would have to stick to his promise of spreading money to multiple relgions, and spending it on secular programs.If the money gets sent to only one religion or is spent on religious programs, then the spending would be unconstitutional. Making sure the money would be spent in secular ways would also be pretty hard to do.

ryanh said...

I believe that this would be constitutional. I agree with Jessie that the only way to really make this fair and work is to spread out the funding to multiple religions not just one. It also should show how the money is spent to the penny. If Obama could accomplish all of this I think this idea is acceptable.

JeremyL said...

I don't have a big problem with this at all. I think it's consitutional as long as it is used for something productive.

And I totally agree with Matt that we should be able to see where the money goes! I think that should apply for any and ALL government spending...

Addie said...

I believe this is constitutional. It follows the Lemon Test because it does not excessive entanglement between church and state. Plus, the money can only be used for secular programs, so technically, the government is not endorsing or condeming religion.
Also, it seems that they are not targeting one religion in particular, which goes back to what we were saying in class about prayer: "Well, what if they hit upon every religion?"
With that in mind, I think the new plan is not so much about endorsing religion as it is about helping people. And I believe the new program does so in a constitutional way.

Alli B said...

I think this situation would be constitutional because the money is being used for a secular purpose. The money isn't being used to support a certain religion over another. Its main purpose is simply to help people which makes the use of the money constitutional.

nathanl said...

Curry pretty much summed up my thoughts in his first paragraph. Funding organizations that are already devoted and close to the people would be quite effective. But it's definitely unconstitutional. In Lemon v. Kurtzman, it was ruled that state funding could not go to religious schools, even if it paid for secular materials such as textbooks. Then again, the Lemon Test is wide open to interpretation, so I wouldn't surprised if this ended up being considered constitutional, considering the economic conditions.

JakeK said...

Just from reaing over the first few comments, this discussion reminds me a lot of the day we pretended to be constitutional lawyers in class. Almost everyone I discussed the cases with argued mainly from a moral opinion standpoint rather than from a constitution based standpoint. I strongly question Addie's reasoning and her Lemon test explanation. The fact is, by providing money to faith-based organizations, the government does give money to certain groups instead of others. Favoritism of church by state is excessive entanglement between church and state. If the government truely wanted to fund origanizations for a secular purpose, the would provide funding to secular organizations, hust as they fund secular schools instead of faith-based ones. The question is not whether or not the funding is right or wrong. The question is whether or not the funding of faith-based organizations is constitutional. Look into the constitution, not your heart.

JakeK said...

*they would provide funding to secular organizations, just...

d gunderson said...

This funding is perfectly legal, because it does pass the lemon test. Also they are giving money to churches that help with the poor so they aren't promoting religion. Also, it really doesn't involve the church at all, because the church isn't using any of it for religion. You could challenge it, but as far as I'm concerned I don't see it as a big deal

shannon_o said...

I believe this would be constitutional. The money is not being used to promote a specific religion. In my opinion, this would pass the lemon test and therefore is constitutional.

Jenni F said...

I can see where this could be viewed as unconstitutional.But just because the organization is faith-based, doesn't mean that they would be using it to "spread the word of Christ." It says in the article the faith-based organizations work with the poor and as long as that is what the organizations use the government funding for, it is constitutional. Then I guess I don't see it any different than a non-profit organization without the name of religion attached to it.

Alexk said...

I think it is constitutional because it doesn't promote any religion or diminish one.
Apparently Ohio is just another place where people cling to religion.

Sergeant K. said...

I agree with Jake K. I think that giving money to a religous group completly entangles church with state, no matter the diversification of funds among religions. The lemon test itself originated due to state giving money to a religous institution in a way, which would make this proposal unconstitutional. I think that this is a bad i dea and will see a lot of opposal

mevanoff said...

I believe this is unconstitutional. The entanglement of church and state is immenent because this view of throwing money into things just helps the government gain control over the religions in our country.

Also who is going to be paying for this? Why should, for example, a catholic tax payer have to put money toward a mosque or temple? That kind of destroys the whole freedom of religion thingy eh? Just another point of debate.

Addie said...

Guess what, guys?
It is all about me.

nathanl said...

No way, Addie. This is a republic. It's about everyone.

Nick Berry said...

According to the Lemon Test, this would be unconstitutional because it is excessive entanglement in religion. The government favorites a religious group over other charity groups. If the government would give this money, it would have to go to non-affiliated (with religion) groups.