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Monthly Archives: July 2008

You probably know that national Americans United has been looking into the use of Federal money for constitutionally suspect “earmarks” which are directing tax dollars to a string of religious organizations. Earmarks are funds provided by the Congress for projects or programs where the merit-based or competitive allocation processes is circumvented by specifying the location or recipient.

You may not know that we have our own earmarks in New York State. We call them “legislative initiatives,” “community projects” or “member items.”  Our chapter has begun to look into our very own earmarks to see if any of them are also constitutionally suspect.  See below for constitutional requirements and what makes a grant “suspect.”

New York’s legislative initiatives are listed on the websites of the New York State Assembly and the New York State Senate.  Each item lists the name of the organization receiving the funds, the purpose of the grant, the amount, the state agency administering the grant and the legislator who requested it (the member whose item it is).  To see these lists for the State Assembly: SFY 2008-09 Legislative Initiatives.  This list is in alphabetical order within each administering state agency. To see the list for the State Senate, Community Projects Fund SFY 2008-09.  This list is in alphabetical order by the receiving organization’s name.

Constitutional Requirements

The constitution prohibits the use of public funds for religious purposes or to be given to groups that discriminate on the basis of religion among service reciepients. In addition, these funds may not go to organizations that are pervasively sectarian institutions. An institution is pervasively sectarian if its secular activities cannot be separated from its sectarian ones or if a substantial portion of its functions are subsumed in the religious mission.

During this year, we will be looking into the groups who are receiving the funds and the purposes for which the funds have been given.  We will be particularly looking into groups that receive funds who are pervasively sectarian.

You can help:

  • Take a look at the lists
  • Pay particular attention to items requested by your state senator or assemblyman
  • Let us know if you find any constitutionally suspect

Send us an email: info@au-nyc.org

On July 1st, 2008, Barack Obama made a speech in Zanesville, OH detailing his plan to expand President Bush’s Faith-Based initiatives. This immediately created reactions both negative and positive.

AU is in the “negative” category, for obvious reasons. In a statement, Rev. Barry Lynn said, “This initiative has been a failure on all counts, and it ought to be shut down, not expanded.”

Senator Obama offered some assurances about his plan:

Now, 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. 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.

Continue reading

June was Pride Month, and every year we get a familiar question: What does church-state separation have to do with gay rights?

To be sure, gay rights is a civil right in which many different organizations actively promote. However, there are also many groups who are opposed to gay rights, and in particular gay marriage. Many of these groups are religious-based. Indeed, many of the opposition groups base their position on their interpretations of their religion.

This is where AU comes in.

Americans United has a good section on this topic. Please give it a read for a more detailed explanation. ?