Lately, a lot of people on the right have been awfully quick to cry religious bigotry for no good reason. I’m at the point where I reach for the remote every time Bill O’Reilly fulminates against “secularists.” So tonight when I heard him announce an upcoming segment about “religion under attack,” I was prepared to roll my eyes. Until I saw the segment.
It seems some “civil liberties groups” are upset because FEMA is going to use taxpayer money to reimburse churches and other religious organizations for services (shelter, food, and other assistance) provided to survivors of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
According to The Washington Post:
FEMA officials said religious organizations would be eligible for payments only if they operated emergency shelters, food distribution centers or medical facilities at the request of state or local governments in the three states that have declared emergencies — Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. In those cases, “a wide range of costs would be available for reimbursement, including labor costs incurred in excess of normal operations, rent for the facility and delivery of essential needs like food and water,” FEMA spokesman Eugene Kinerney said in an e-mail.
Apparently, the “civil libertarians” believe that this violates the separation of church and state.
What next? Are we going to say that the police (taxpayer-funded, after all!) shouldn’t be allowed to investigate a robbery at a church?
Yes, yes, I know there are differences. On tonight’s O’Reilly Factor, Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State was talking about religious indoctrination and discrimination in church-run charitable programs. Fine. You show me a religious organization that was asked by the local government to run a shelter for Katrina survivors and either barred people of other faiths or subjected them to intrusive proselytizing — as opposed to, say, merely handing out a Bible — and I will agree that they shouldn’t get a penny in reimbursements. But unless there is such evidence, why not treat religious groups the same as secular ones? (For that matter, why is there so little concern with discrimination and indoctrination practiced by programs based on secular ideologies — for instance, taxpayer-funded domestic violence programs rooted in radical feminist viewpoints?)
There is indeed a point where secularism crosses over into hostility toward religion. For an example, see the recent brouahaha over the tiny church crosses on the Los Angeles County seal. This is another such case. On this occasion, the so-called civil libertarians are only giving the separation of chruch and state a bad name.