Katherine Stewart, an author and researcher whose work focuses on the Religious Right, warned in a March 8 New York Times column that Christian nationalist groups are increasingly demanding the right to discriminate in social service programs with taxpayer dollars.
Stewart, author of the new book The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, asserted that politically conservative Christian groups are eager to tap public funding under the federal faith-based initiative to provide services to people in need – but they want to exclude certain Americans.
Stewart noted that federal faith-based initiatives aren’t new. In 2002, President George W. Bush, she wrote, “increased the flow of federal money to faith-based organizations providing services on behalf of the government.” Bush, she said, “insisted that these organizations would not be permitted to discriminate. But in fact, the new method of faith-based funding invited the risk of discrimination and the erosion of church-state separation.”
Under President Barack Obama, Stewart noted, provisions were put into place “to ensure that members of the public were not subject to discrimination on the basis of religious belief or unwanted proselytization. The provisions also required that users of church-sponsored social programs be made aware of nonsectarian options.”
But under President Donald Trump, she noted, these protections are being eliminated. Trump’s administration has proposed a series of rules governing faith-based programs in several federal agencies that strip away such protections for those who need the services in question. (See “Reckless Rules,” February 2020 Church & State.)
Stewart quoted Americans United President and CEO Rachel Laser, who said, “The proposed rules would strip away religious freedom protections from people, often the most vulnerable and marginalized, and even allow faith-based organizations to discriminate in government-funded programs.” Laser added that these proposed policies would put the interests of these faith-based organizations “ahead of the needs of the people seeking critical services.”
Asked Stewart, “Why is the Trump administration so determined to tear down the wall of separation between church and state? The long game is clear: Because that’s the way you ‘take back America’ and make it a Christian nation.”