Pro-FBO Law and Policy is short-hand for laws, government regulations, and government programs and policies that provide equal treatment for faith-based organizations—a bias neither for nor against houses of worship and other religious organizations, compared to their secular counterparts. Because religious organizations are different from secular ones, in order for there to be equal treatment, sometimes laws, regulations and programs have to be designed in ways that accommodate those differences. For example, federal civil rights law bans job discrimination on the basis of religion—but specifically permits religious organizations to consider religion in hiring and firing. Otherwise, even a church or a mosque would be forced to ignore religious beliefs when deciding whom to hire as their leaders and might have to employ fundamentally unsuitable staff. The purpose of the different treatment is not to privilege religious organizations, but rather to be fair to their distinctive identities and practices.
Pro-FBO Law and Policy
What is Pro-FBO Law and Policy?
What does it mean to be Pro-FBO Law and Policy?
Being Pro-FBO law and society means being
Pro-civil society. The United States has many policies that support the existence and flourishing of civil society organizations, both secular and religious. Consider the charitable giving incentives in our tax laws, the ease with which a wide variety of organizations can incorporate as nonprofit organizations and receive federal 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, and the fact that, although many k-12 schools and higher education institutions are operated by government, our education laws and accreditation agencies allow for private—secular and religious—schools and colleges.
Being Pro-FBO law and society means being Pro-institutional religious freedom. The laws, regulations, and programs often include the particular accommodations that the faith-based civil society organizations need. For example, federal education law is written such that the students who attend private religious schools can participate in federally funded special education services and in the free school meals programs, without those schools being required to adopt the secular curricula and admissions practices of public schools. The faith-based initiative is a decades-long federal effort to ensure that the requirements that govern federal funding do not exclude religious organizations from being able to partner with the government to provide social services.
Being Pro-FBO law and society means being Pro-Best Practices. Faith-based organizations, themselves, have a role to play so that laws, regulations, and government programs are fair to themselves and to other faith-based organizations, too. They need to ensure that their own practices are appropriate, signaling that they are, indeed, religious organizations. And they need to show, where their practices and policies deviate from the general requirements of the law, that their alternative ways are necessitated by their religious convictions and are not harmful.
What are some of the challenges faced by faith-based organizations that can be addressed by Pro-FBO law and policy?
Lack of awareness. Faith-based organizations are facing growing opposition. But sometimes legislators and civil servants, not personally religious, seem simply ignorant of the special characteristics of religious organizations and thus of the accommodations they need.
In 2020, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Congress in the CARES Act created the Paycheck Protection Program and specified that the Small Business Administration (SBA) must administer the refundable PPP loans such that not only small businesses and secular nonprofits but also religious nonprofits, even houses of worship, were eligible. An excellent goal: the pandemic was a grave economic threat not only to secular organizations but also to religious ones, and not only to faith-based child care and housing but also to synagogues and mosques. However, it turned out that the SBA’s existing regulations, designed to govern loans to small businesses, which were required to be nondiscriminatory, were not appropriate for religious organizations, which must be free to be—religious.
Overly broad nondiscrimination requirements. The drive by activists and government officials to better secure LGBTQ rights is creating new challenges for those faith-based organizations that continue to be committed to theologically and morally conservative convictions about human sexuality and marriage. Here limitations on the freedom of those organizations is often quite deliberate as officials seek to suppress views and policies they regard as simply discriminatory. Yet, just as our society has creatively worked out ways that persons, organizations, and communities committed to contrasting religious beliefs can live side by side, it should be possible to work out ways that people, organizations, and communities committed to different conceptions of human sexuality can live side by side. IRFA since the late 00s has been committed to creative federal policymaking—sometimes termed Fairness for All—that protects both LGBTQ people and the freedoms needed by faith-based service organizations to operate and serve in accordance with their deep religious convictions.
Faith-based organizations should consider speaking up when laws, regulations, and programs are being proposed or modified. In our democratic system, there are often opportunities to comment on proposal regulations and laws and sometimes to testify to legislative committees. And faith-based organizations should take the opportunity to introduce their good works and their religious mission to their elected representatives, helping them understand the diverse faith-based sector and its invaluable works of service.
Learn more about Resources for Advocates.
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