Florida – Around the States – Miami plans to encourage religious organizations to apply for social grants

Florida – Around the States – Miami plans to encourage religious organizations to apply for social grants – Muslim woman loses appeal to not have driver’s license picture taken

The City of Miami, Florida will soon begin operating taxpayer-funded worships and providing “technical” assistance to local churches in order to operate faith-based social programs.

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According to the Miami Herald, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz “is on a crusade” to galvanize President George Bush’s federal initiative to woo religious organizations into applying for grants and other resources. Diaz already hosts regular meetings with church leaders at a so-called “pastoral roundtable” where he pitches the initiative, and encourages clerics to seek public funding for social outreach programs.

“Collaborating with congregations is also a cornerstone of Diaz’s highly touted antipoverty initiative, which he said cannot succeed without the aid of faith-based groups,” reported Herald staffer Nuri Vallbona.

A local director the ACLU told the paper that while encouraging religious groups to help the poor was “commendable,” Mayor Diaz was on a slippery slope in advocating the use of public funding for religious groups. Churches may resist government oversight, or allow their religious doctrines to affect hiring practices and discriminate against gays.

In addition, reports the Herald, Miami taxpayers are already funding “scores” of faith-based groups including nine Roman Catholic Charities programs and the Jewish Family Services of Greater Miami.

Trinity Church in Miami offers a “myriad of social service pr4ograms” through a nonprofit front known as Peacemakers Family Services Center. It offers everything from free medical care to counseling and legal services, and receives more than $100,000 per year from federal, state and local funding. “The money comes tied to government regulations,” notes the paper, but Rev. Linda Freeman, pastor at Trinity insists that she follows appropriate guidelines, adding “We never ask what religion they (clients) are or if they go to church.”

Freeman admits, though, “that she would not hire Satan worshipers because she wants people compatible with the culture of the workplace.”

As with similar programs sprouting throughout the country, here are no provisions in the Miami faith-based outreached for ongoing supervision or oversight to ensure that providers accepting government money do follow whatever guidelines are put down on paper concerning the First Amendment. It’s the “honor system.” And while the issue of discrimination on the part of faith-based providers is important, the “elephant in the living room” that few seems to want to talk about is the fact that Americans are now paying a de facto Religion Tax, i.e., the use of public money to support religion-based groups and social services.

A Circuit Court judge has ruled that there is no religious exemption for a Muslim woman who wanted to wear her veil while having her driver’s license photograph taken.

Sultaana Freeman, a convert to Islam, said that her religion precluded her from exposing her face to strangers. State officials offered a compromise, saying that they would permit Ms. Freeman to lift her veil in a private area and have her picture taken by another woman. She demurred.

The case was considered a test for the growing number of “special rights” laws, including state Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, that provide legal carveouts and exemptions for certain types of behavior when religious groups and individuals are involved.

American Atheists hailed the Circuit Court decision. AA President Ellen Johnson told media, “There should be no ‘special rights’ for any religious groups or individuals. Government must remain neutral in respect to religious practices; and religious belief or affiliation should not exempt someone from the generally applicable, neutral laws and regulations that everyone else must obey.”

COPYRIGHT 2003 American Atheists Inc.

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