Sunday, October 05, 2008

Congress raises money for theist only organization.

The Equal Protection and/or Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment should prohibit federal funding directed to particular private organization sponsored programs that restrict participation based on religious belief for hiring, volunteer opportunities, and membership. The Bush administration has made a sustained effort to chip away at these nondiscrimination protections with respect to hiring and volunteering for its Faith Based Initiative and, even worse, by permitting the government funds to be intermingled with the sectarian organizations' general purpose funds. Nevertheless, even the Bush administration has respected in word, if not 100% in deeds, the long standing consensus that targeted federally funded programs (as opposed to untargeted funding via vouchers), including the FBI funded programs, cannot refuse to serve a citizen on the basis of that citizen's beliefs concerning religious claims, included beliefs that are in disagreement and dissent from claims made by various competing religions and by various religious believers.

Yet the "Boy Scouts of America Centennial Commemorative Coin Act" (H.R. 5872) was fast-tracked by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for a floor vote, and passed by unanimous consent on Saturday, September 27, 2008.
The bill mandates that the U.S. Mint create and sell as many as 350,000 one dollar coins commemorating the Scouts' centennial in the year 2010. A ten dollar surcharge on each coin goes directly to the Boy Scouts of America, who will net as much as $3.5 million in the deal. The Boy Scouts exclude people they categorize as "atheists, agnostics, or avowed homosexuals" from participation in their membership only Scouting programs.

So what gives? Is there a principle in constitutional or federal law that exempts just Boy Scout programs, or just youth organization programs, from the otherwise generally recognized nondiscrimination legal standard for direct federal funding with respect to beliefs regarding religion? Apparently not, since no other program that so discriminates against any other competing belief regarding religion receives such direct federal funding. The legal principles that are claimed by Boy Scouts to justify the government funding are free expession and free exercise. But those are general principles that must exempt all government funding from nondiscrimination constraints or none. Does the Congress not know that Boy Scouts denies membership to atheists? Clearly they are aware of the Boy Scout policy because the Boy Scouts openly states its policy on its legal web site, lawsuits challenging the discrimination have been widely publicized, and many people have written to their Congress people about this dispute.

The only explanation for this disparity is that the target of the discrimination are atheist leaning agnostics and atheists. As far as Congress and the American public are concerned atheists are not citizens who are entitled to the full anti discrimination protections that they recognize as generally applicable to themselves and everyone else. Didn't George Washington once say "And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion"? There is one word that characterizes this, it is bigotry, pure and simple, whether it appears in the context of someone's misuse of an eighteenth century quote from George Washington to justify government supported discrimination against the non-religious or a vote of the Congress or the membership policy of Boy Scouts of America. As always, there is one proper response to bigotry: Fight against against it.

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