The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Cancel Those Orders

An Australian blogger has laid out an ambitious first-term agenda for the Obama administration.

Four major pieces of pro-gay legislation should be passed within Obama’s first term.
First will be the Matthew Shepard Hate Crime Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) which will protect gays from hate crimes and discrimination in the workplace for the first time at a federal level. With a Democratic majority in both houses, transgendered protections removed from ENDA before the election will most likely be reinserted.

Later should come bills to repeal the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy responsible for the sacking of over twelve thousand gay military personnel over the last 15 years, and the Defense of Marriage Act that bans any kind of recognition of same-sex couples at a federal level.

Well, yeah. I’d go along with all of the above. However, beyond using the bully pulpit of the presidency to oppose discrimination and support equality, there’s little the president can do on any of the above until or unless Congress sends passes a hate crimes bill, ENDA, a repeal of DOMA. 

That doesn’t mean there can’t be some changes made right away, tho’.

It’s already been reported that Obama’s transition is reviewing about 200 Bush executive orders that can be eighty-sixed toot sweet. He’s already said to be drafting a repeal of one Bush’s worse executive orders.

Among a slew of executive orders Barack Obama is said to be drafting, observers believe one may lift a ban on US funding for overseas family planning groups that even dare mention abortion.

…US funds to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) have been blocked since 2002, with the State Department saying the UN agency supports China’s one-child policy, which is says amounts to coercive abortion.

“The Bush administration has said the UNFPA supports coercive birth control methods and that’s why they’re blocking money to it,” said Tait Sye, a spokesman for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA).

“The problem is that UNFPA money goes towards things like family planning and contraception, too,” vital services in developing countries, he added.

A World Bank report published in July said women in developing countries, where access to contraception is poor, often turn to abortion as a means of birth control.

Abortion is more costly than providing contraceptive services, and around half the 42 million abortions performed annually are unsafe, the report said.

wUNFPA senior culture adviser Azza Karam stressed at the launch of the UN agency’s annual State of World Population report in Washington this week that family planning is “not a luxury of whether or not you’re going to have premarital sex” but a service that women must have access to.

One woman dies every minute somewhere in the world because of complications during birth, she said.

It’s kind of ironic that Bush and the folks who keep his approval rating in the double digits to cut the funding of a program that might prevent abortions by preventing unwanted pregnancies. At least until you remember that these are the same people who define contraception as abortion (another rule change that didn’t require congressional approval and one that Obama may have in his sights).

Bush’s UNFPA policy has had devastating consequences for women around the world, something I blogged about a couple of years ago, after seeing an Anderson Cooper piece on problem of women in Africa suffering fistulas as a result of violent, multiple rapes.

You see, women like those mentioned in the article were getting help, from an organization called the United Nations Population Fund (UNFP) and its campaign to end fistula, until the Bush administration blocked those efforts in 2001 and has continued to stand in the way.

… Nevermind that Bush sent a hand-picked State Department delegation to investigate the claims. Their findings, namely that the UNFP didn’t support forced abortions or sterilizations and thus should have its funding restored, didn’t jibe with the administration’s ideology. There are a couple of things about Heal Africa that do jibe with the Bush ideology, though.

The post goes on to cover how the money that might have gone to UNFPA was instead funneled to religious organizations that ran clinics and also advocated an “abstinence only” approach to HIV/AIDS prevention. (Another policy whose days may be numbered in an Obama administration.)

So, it makes my top ten lists of Bush’s executive orders that should be circling the bowl on or shortly after January 20, 2009. Salon has a top ten list of their own, compiled from reader suggestions, that would also be a good place to start. In fact, I’d sign off on all ten, with this one at the top of the stack.

No. 8: Letting Religious Groups Call the Hiring Shots
Executive Order 13279 (PDF)
Dec. 12, 2002

What the order says: Adding to the pair of 2001 executive orders that encouraged religious groups to apply for federal money for social services, Bush’s December 2002 order made it easier for churches and synagogues to take the money by letting them skirt certain anti-discrimination laws. Because of this order, the faith-based groups can take federal funds while refusing to hire people who aren’t of the faith the groups espouse.

Why it should go: As Timothy Noah pointed out in Slate at the time, this seems sensible enough at first: “Why shouldn’t government-funded religious charities be allowed to favor members of their own religion when hiring, firing, and promoting?” But there are a couple of problems here. The first is that the groups get to define for themselves who counts as a good Baptist or a good Jew—and what if they decide someone is out because he or she is gay, for example? The second problem is that it’s not really clear why Catholic charities should be able to hire only Catholics to serve meals to the homeless, if that work is being funded by the government. In a debate on The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer, Christopher Anders of the ACLU framed the order this way: “What this is about is creating a special right for some organizations that don’t want to comply with the civil rights protections.” James Towey, then director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said, “The question is, ‘Do they lose right to hire according to religious beliefs when they take federal money?’ ” Either way you frame it, the order is a bad idea. Both John McCain and Barack Obama have pledged to continue federal funding of faith-based programs, but Obama has promised that groups taking the money won’t be able to make social-services hires on the basis of religion.

But why stop there? Why is the government funding religious organizations to do, well, anything? As I wrote two years ago, there are inherent problems in giving the church access to the state’s purse.

Leaving aside whether or not Bush is more of a “dry drunk” than a recovering alcoholic, and whether he wanted votes at least as much as he wanted souls (if not more) it’s clear that he and the “peer-review panelist” wear the same blinders Kuo wears and miss the same point he comes close to reaching in the book, but ultimately doesn’t get either: that the government should not be in the business of “saving souls” or helping people to “know Jesus,” nor should it pay anyone else to do so.

The inherent danger in that is evidenced in the kind of discrimination Kuo writes about, that was an ingrained part of the thinking of the most ardent supporters of the initiative. Combined with the lack of oversight (which perhaps has its origin in what Kuo describes as evangelical Christians willingness to give the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt even with it seemed to ignore or short change their issues) creates situations like the one I noted before, where an organization like the Salvation Army gets nearly all of its budget from the government, and then uses it to purge Jews and homosexuals from its staff; Jewish and homosexual taxpayers, that is, whose taxes now supply the organization’s budget. (Not to mention Buddhist, Muslim, and non-religious taxpayers who would probably also be out of a job, courtesy of their tax dollars.)

It’s a danger only enhanced by the Bush administration’s efforts to weaken rules that were intended to protect the separation of church and state. The danger becomes even more apparent when you consider that the “soul-saving” mission is combined with belief that it’s an it is an “‘error‘ to judge federally-funded social service programs by the effectiveness of the services they provide, instead of judging them by religious ‘long-term ends’,” because it creates an atmosphere where effectiveness doesn’t matter in a situation where lives are literally at stake.

It leads to an HIV prevention educator in Africa being told, “Just remember, whatever you do, don’t mention condoms,” just before he stepped out onto a stage to talk HIV prevention to Ugandans, because he was hosted by a faith-based “abstinence-only” program. Never mind that advances against HIV in Uganda have withered away under the Bush administration, because anti-condom propaganda has effectively decreased condom use, but hasn’t affected the practice of unprotected sex. Because the effectiveness of the services offered is not important, and neither is any increase in the rate of HIV infection among Africans. That’s a short-term goal after all. The long term goal is “salvation,” which is still possible after and HIV infection, but unquantifiable.

…And, really, it couldn’t happen any other way. The problem with the faith-based initiative that Kuo misses, isn’t that it wasn’t done right. The problem is that it can’t be done right. Or that it’s almost impossible to do right, simply given human nature, the fact that the U.S. is overwhelmingly Christian, the tendency of the major faiths — Christianity, Judaism, and Islam — to reject the legitimacy of any other faith (unless practiced by the kind of moderates Sam Harris talks about, which still leaves the door open for their extremist co-religionists), and the tendency to one’s co-religionists (or in Bush’s case “a brother in Christ”) the benefit of the doubt.

By the time someone like Kuo pulls the curtain aside, much of the damage has been done already. And cleaning it up will end up being someone else’s job.

For those reasons, I would add to the list of executive orders that need to go Executive Order 13199.

By the authority vested in me as President of the United States by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and in order to help the Federal Government coordinate a national effort to expand opportunities for faith-based and other community organizations and to strengthen their capacity to better meet social needs in America’s communities, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Policy. Faith-based and other community organizations are indispensable in meeting the needs of poor Americans and distressed neighborhoods. Government cannot be replaced by such organizations, but it can and should welcome them as partners. The paramount goal is compassionate results, and private and charitable community groups, including religious ones, should have the fullest opportunity permitted by law to compete on a level playing field, so long as they achieve valid public purposes, such as curbing crime, conquering addiction, strengthening families and neighborhoods, and overcoming poverty. This delivery of social services must be results oriented and should value the bedrock principles of pluralism, nondiscrimination, evenhandedness, and neutrality.

Sec. 2. Establishment. There is established a White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (White House OFBCI) within the Executive Office of the President that will have lead responsibility in the executive branch to establish policies, priorities, and objectives for the Federal Government’s comprehensive effort to enlist, equip, enable, empower, and expand the work of faith-based and other community organizations to the extent permitted by law.

Sec. 3. Functions. The principal functions of the White House OFBCI are, to the extent permitted by law: (a) to develop, lead, and coordinate the Administration’s policy agenda affecting faith-based and other community programs and initiatives, expand the role of such efforts in communities, and increase their capacity through executive action, legislation, Federal and private funding, and regulatory relief;

(b)
    to ensure that Administration and Federal Government policy decisions and programs are consistent with the President’s stated goals with respect to faith-based and other community initiatives;
(c)
    to help integrate the President’s policy agenda affecting faith-based and other community organizations across the Federal Government;
(d)
    to coordinate public education activities designed to mobilize public support for faith-based and community nonprofit initiatives through volunteerism, special projects, demonstration pilots, and public-private partnerships;
(e)
    to encourage private charitable giving to support faith-based and community initiatives;
(f)
    to bring concerns, ideas, and policy options to the President for assisting, strengthening, and replicating successful faith-based and other community programs;
(g)
    to provide policy and legal education to State, local, and community policymakers and public officials seeking ways to empower faith-based and other community organizations and to improve the opportunities, capacity, and expertise of such groups;
(h)
    to develop and implement strategic initiatives under the President’s agenda to strengthen the institutions of civil society and America’s families and communities;
(i)
    to showcase and herald innovative grassroots nonprofit organizations and civic initiatives;

(j)
    to eliminate unnecessary legislative, regulatory, and other bureaucratic barriers that impede effective faith-based and other community efforts to solve social problems;
(k)
    to monitor implementation of the President’s agenda affecting faith-based and other community organizations; and

    (l)
        to ensure that the efforts of faith-based and other community organizations meet high standards of excellence and accountability.
    Sec. 4. Administration. (a) The White House OFBCI may function through established or ad hoc committees, task forces, or interagency groups.

(b)
    The White House OFBCI shall have a staff to be headed by the Assistant to the President for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The White House OFBCI shall have such staff and other assistance, to the extent permitted by law, as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of this order. The White House OFBCI operations shall begin no later than 30 days from the date of this order.
(c)
    The White House OFBCI shall coordinate with the liaison and point of contact designated by each executive department and agency with respect to this initiative.
(d)
    All executive departments and agencies (agencies) shall cooperate with the White House OFBCI and provide such information, support, and assistance to the White House OFBCI as it may request, to the extent permitted by law.
(e)
    The agencies’ actions directed by this Executive Order shall be carried out subject to the availability of appropriations and to the extent permitted by law.

Sec. 5. Judicial Review. This order does not create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or equity by a party against the United States, its agencies or instrumentalities, its officers or employees, or any other person. GEORGE W. BUSH
The White House,
January 29, 2001.

And Executive Order 13198

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and in order to help the Federal Government coordinate a national effort to expand opportunities for faithbased and other community organizations and to strengthen their capacity to better meet social needs in America’s communities, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Establishment of Executive Department Centers for FaithBased and Community Initiatives. (a) The Attorney General, the Secretary of Education, the Secretary of Labor, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development shall each establish within their respective departments a Center for FaithBased and Community Initiatives (Center).

This one should be the first in the shredder, and the offices occupied by the “Centers for Faith Based and Community Initiatives” returns to something resembling the proper function of government.

As some have suggested where regulation in the financial sector is concerned, the first step is to go back to what we had before, when religious organizations were already eligible to receive federal dollars, and were simply required to meet the same standards and requirements as any other organization applying for funding, to comply with all the same regulations regarding licensing, professional staff, training, and to have proper “firewalls” between government funded services, and the religious services of the organization.

In other words, let them play by the same rules as everyone else. Or not at all.

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