The President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships is nearing the end of its first year of work. On January 28th, the chair of the Council, Melissa Rogers, informed the Council of procedures for voting on a few of the issues related to the Council’s work.
You can find Melissa’s email below. Her follow-up emails to individual Council members as well as responses from those members are made available to the public as well. For more information, write firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your hard work on the Council report. We are exceedingly close to the finish line, and I’m looking forward to seeing you in Washington in February.
This note is to let you know that I’ll be sending you an email soon to ask for your views on two issues about which the Reform of the Office Taskforce members disagree. Those questions and possible answers (as drawn from the text of the Reform Report – see attached for latest draft) are:
1. Should the government allow nongovernmental providers of federally funded social services to provide those services in rooms that contain religious art, scripture, messages, or symbols?
a. No. Amend existing regulations, guidance, and an executive order to permit nongovernmental organizations to offer federally funded programming only in areas devoid of religious art, scripture, messages, or symbols.
b. Amend existing regulations, guidance, and an executive order to allow federally funded programming in areas with these religious items only when there is no available space in the organizations’ offices without these items and when removing or covering such displays would be infeasible (e.g., where it would take great effort to remove or cover a religious icon mounted high on a wall or remove or cover a large statute). If these measures are not feasible and beneficiaries object to the presence of such symbols, beneficiaries must have access to an alternative provider to which they do not object. (See Reform Report Recommendation 10: Assure the Religious Liberty Rights of the Clients and Beneficiaries of Federally Funded Programs by Strengthening Appropriate Protections, pages 27-29.)
c. Yes. Neither require nor encourage the removal of religious symbols where services subsidized by federal grant or contact funds are provided, but instead encourage all providers to be sensitive to, and to accommodate where feasible, those beneficiaries who may object to the presence of religious symbols. If these voluntary measures do not meet the objections of the beneficiaries, those beneficiaries must have access to an alternative provider to which they do not object. (See Reform Report Recommendation 10: Assure the Religious Liberty Rights of the Clients and Beneficiaries of Federally Funded Programs by Strengthening Appropriate Protections, pages 27-29 of the Reform Report.)
2. Should the government require houses of worship to form separate corporations to receive direct federal social service funds?
a. Yes, the government should require houses of worship that wish to receive direct federal social service funds to establish separate corporations as a necessary means for achieving church-state separation and protecting religious autonomy, while also urging states to reduce any unnecessary administrative costs and burdens associated with attaining this status.
b. No, the government should not require separate incorporation, because it is not always the best means to achieve these goals, and because it may be prohibitively costly and onerous, particularly for smaller organizations, resulting in the disruption and deterrence of effective and constitutionally permissible relationships.
In my email, I will ask you to give me your answers to these questions, telling me which option you choose for each question. In addition to choosing one of these possible answers, you may abstain from answering one or both of these questions if you wish.
The purpose of my email communication with you will be to get your views on these issues, not to lobby you in any way. Because I will not want to risk seeming to emphasize one side of the arguments over others, I’ll be reluctant to discuss these issues with you at that time. With that in mind, let me invite you to participate in the final meeting of the Reform of the Office Taskforce at 9:30am (ET) on Friday, January 29. I’d also urge you to read the most recent version of the Reform report (see attached). The arguments on both (or all) sides of these issues are set forth there. (See Reform Report Recommendation 6: Equally Emphasize Separation Requirements and Protections for Religious Identity, pages 16-19, and Reform Report Recommendation 12: Promote Other Means of Protecting Religious Liberty in the Delivery of Government-Funded Social Services, pages 31-38.) Also, feel free to contact one or more members of the Reform Taskforce for their views and for an explanation of the issues in preparation for our email exchange. The list of the members of that taskforce and their telephone numbers appears below.
Once I’ve spoken with all Council members on these issues, I’ll determine which view is the majority position on these issues and which view(s) are the minority positions, and we’ll describe the views accordingly in our report. Both majority and minority views will be described in the text of the report.
We won’t list Council members’ names and the specific positions each of us takes on these issues in the body of the report, but that information will be included in the footnotes or an appendix to the report. You should also know that the email you send back to me will go into a file that can be requested by members of the public.
I expect to send you the email requesting your answers to these two questions on Friday, January 29. Please respond to my email as soon as you can and certainly not later than close of business on Monday, February 1. As you know, we plan to vote on the report during our Council call on Tuesday, February 2. We’ll need to have a sense of the majority and minority views by Monday at the latest so that we can make the necessary revisions to the Reform report before that call.
As always, please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions. Thank you for the honor and pleasure of working with you.