Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Faithful Paraphernalia

The disaster in Haiti has volunteers and charities working overtime, both secular and religious. Sharing the US Government’s attention is talks among President Obama’s faith council regarding religious symbols and federal funding.

Basically what they’re discussing is whether or not church-run charity programs which receive money from the government should be allowed to display whichever symbol applies to the church in question. One of the suggestions is to hold charity work in whichever room they have which is already religion-neutral, while another states that if they don’t already have a non-religious room they shouldn’t have to change anything.

If, for example, the Baptist church on my block ran a Food Pantry and was given a stipend by the government, should they have to remove any crosses or religious pamphlets from the room in which they serve the public? Does receiving donations from the government turn your charity’s base of operation into public property?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.


Chelsea is the proud mama of an amazing toddler-aged girl. She works in the retail industry while vehemently disliking mankind and, every once in a while, her bottled-up emotions explode into WordPress as a lengthy, ranty, almost violent blog. These will be your favorite Chelsea moments. Follow Chelsea on Twitter: chelseaepp.

Related Articles


  1. I’m of mixed feeling on this. Partly I’d rather the charity happen than have people spend hours hanging cloth over the creepy cross in the corner. Partly I know that people won’t go. But people also won’t go if it is in a church complex even if that particular room isn’t covered with god symbols.

    I think the answer to this is God doesn’t need Government dollars.

  2. As long as the government money is spent on the actual charity work (food, medicine, etc.) and not proselytizing (bibles, pamphlets, etc.) I’m fine with it. It makes no sense to me to oppose religion in this instance when they’re helping people.

    When talking about promoting atheism, I often say: pick your battles, and specifically pick ones that don’t make you look like an asshole.

  3. I’m with mikerattlesnake. As long as they aren’t actively proselytizing and are focused on actually helping people, I don’t care if they have crosses or plaques of the Ten Commandments on the wall.

    Hell, I don’t care if they ask to pray for the people they’re helping, as long as they’re actually helping and not wasting funds on Bibles or pamplets.

  4. Hi there!

    Although every Atheist bone in my body is saying: “Keep your religion out of my government, and I’ll keep my government out of your religion”, I don’t know if this argument holds water. The reason that we have a first amendment is to prevent the ESTABLISHMENT of a particular religion, and I don’t really feel that this applies here. To me, it would be similar to donating to a particular cause through a related secular organization. The organization should be able to use their own symbols and letterhead or whatever. The caveat here would be that any and all religions should be able to have the same access to government funds. If a Wiccan church or Zoroastrian group (for example) is not eligible for government funds, then none of them should be.

    I do feel, however, that if the government were to give funds to a particular charity, it should be without conditions or “fine print”. If you’re getting money from the government, the recipients of your charity shouldn’t be ONLY Christians, ONLY heterosexuals, or ONLY Caucasians.

    I don’t even have a problem with churches being tax-free, provided that they don’t attempt to influence people to vote a certain way. Churches were originally meant to be community centers and charity organizations. If the Catholic Church (for example) gives money to homeless shelters and provides counseling and support for those in need, I’m fine with them not being taxed. The moment they endorse a particular political candidate or start to push their agenda, all bets are off. :(

  5. I have to agree. As long as the money is being used to support the charity, it shouldn’t be a question. I’ve volunteered in a Food Pantry and wasn’t any more bothered by the crosses than by the fact that there were so many more people in need in the area than I’d previously thought.

    Helping people is helping people. What’s important is that the people who need assistance are getting it, whether there’s a crucifix hanging on the wall or not.

  6. There isn’t really a shortage of non-profit orgs in the US. *cough cough* and there are plenty of churches who spin off separate actual (c)3’s. We don’t NEED churches to do any charitable activities. And yes there are lots of people who wouldn’t got to a church to get help because it isn’t their church even if technically the services are open to anyone.

  7. @loudlyquiet: I’m not denying any of those facts. All I’m saying in my last comment is that the ones who already exist and do help people might as well continue to help people. I definitely don’t think we need any more church-run charities, and I understand that there are people who wouldn’t go to a church. There are also people who are desperate enough that they don’t care where they go, and sometimes a church is more accessible.

  8. I agree, as long as the money is being used to support the charity, who cares. Though there need to be check and balances to make sure it is being used for that and not spreading to good word…

    OK I suppose it is all in how you define need, but I don’t think there are enough charitable orgs, religions or otherwise.

  9. As long as no one sets aside space that could be used for food and water for bibles (electronic or otherwise) I’m fine with it. As soon as someone hands out bibles or the like instead of food that’s when I have issues.

  10. I’m mixed on it, but I fall in with most here. As long as the money is being spent on real charity, then who cares what’s on the wall.
    Now, where it gets messy is that all that money goes into one big pot, mixed with tithes and offerings. Many of the church-run food pantries will at least put a pamphlet in the box of food (which seem fairly easy to throw away without any harm being done as long as the printing wasn’t paid for with govn’t money, which it generally isn’t). Some have a prayer room available.
    But a few (and it really is pretty rare) will make you talk to “counselors” before you get any help.
    The pamphlets and availability of prayer to those who request it don’t really bother me (again, as long as the govn’t money is spent on charity, not pamphlet printing, which is pretty easy to track and generally is pretty well tracked).
    But the compulsory prayer thing is pretty ugly.

  11. @NewEnglandBob: I agree with the whole separation of church and state business. However, if a church simply houses a room out of which a charity runs their deal, does that still count? Not all of the church-run charities are necessarily run by the clergy. Some rent or donate their rec-rooms. Do they not deserve funding either? [By which I mean the charities running their business out of a room in a church, not the church which owns the room.]

  12. This one is so hard for me. I hate the whole idea that there is an office of faith based inititives in the government. I hate the idea that money flows from the government to religious organization. But then I try to think of this in a pragmatic way. If the aid gets to the people who need it and the money isn’t used to preach or convert and the people aren’t required to pray, or affirm their faith then okay. People getting the help they need is more important.

  13. Religious displays or even pamphlets doesn’t bother me at all. As long as no money they receive from the government is used for any religious purpose (like having those pamphlets printed) and they don’t actively proselytize, discriminate against anyone, or force participation in religious activities by those receiving the service. We have to worry about the big problems not the little ones. If people are being fed in a welcoming place I don’t think it matters if there is a cross on the wall.

  14. Agree with Noadi, the aid is more important than whether a cross or some such is on the package.

    And we should be honest about the fact that almost everyone working to help people in Haiti before the earthquake was there with a religious organization. They may have been preaching as well, but they are often the only ones providing medical and food support.

  15. Of all the sultry holes in the wall, in all of Jackson, you had to walk into this one, and ask that questions.

    I’m of several minds of this. First, federal monies should not be going to a religious organization. That being said, if they aren’t prothseletyzing (I can’t spell that word), and they don’t ask anyone to announce their faith, and they don’t help/dismiss someone based on religion, then, I could let the decorations stay.

  16. Y’know, if it takes overlooking the faith bits when the issue is saving people’s lives, I’m willing to overlook them. Would I prefer that the two didn’t mix? Of course – but in situations like those in Haiti, or starving children [now also in first world nations…], or homeless families in the dead of winter – well, fuck it – let anyone who has the organisation get the job done. If there are religious groups already on the ground who are familiar with what needs to be done and are willing to risk themselves to do it, I am not going to complain if Sister Sister wears a crucifix.

    For less crucial services – well, let’s not cross that church/state line. Yeah, it’s a good idea to have a teen hang-out that is lacking booze and X, but it doesn’t need to have psalms and prayer. And, IMNSHO, no religious group should ever be allowed to control sex ed in public schools. Or literacy, as did the Scientologists in the LA school system some years back. [They’re still in there, recruiting; I threatened to sue my son’s high school when I found out he’d been subjected to a sales pitch by a teacher.]

    And dear FSM, do not let John Travolta fly e-metres into Port-au-Prince!

    [And all you non-believers – go give money for Haiti:

  17. To paraphrase George Carlin, “If god is all powerful, all knowing and everywhere, why can’t he control his checkbook? Everywhere you look, god is asking for more money.”

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button
%d bloggers like this: