FOX News’ Todd Starnes is continuing on with his claims that Christians are being persecuted in the United States. Now, he is claiming that the USDA is bullying Christian groups that distribute food to low-income individuals and forcing them to “choose between Jesus and cheese.”
Of course, Starnes apparently has never known that the USDA and federal law prevents religious groups from proselytizing when distributing charity.
On 9 September, Starnes whined about the USDA threatening to revoke the federal financial assistance that the Christian Service Center gets unless they “removed portraits of Christ, the Ten Commandments, a banner that read ‘Jesus is Lord’ and stop[ped]
giving Bibles to the needy.”
Of course, Starnes’ claims are being picked up by Conservative media and repeated without bothering to consult the law.
Starnes wrote that “For the past 31 years, the Christian ministry has been providing food to the hungry in Lake City, Fla. without any problems. But all that changed when they said a state government worker showed up to negotiate a new contract.”
CSC Executive Director Kay Daley told Starnes that “The (person) told us there was a slight change in the contract. They said we could no longer have religious information where the USDA food is being distributed. They told us we had to take that stuff down.” Daly noted that the CSC is a Christian ministry and that “We’ve got pictures of Christ on more than one wall. It’s very clear we are not social services. We are a Christian ministry.”
Daly decided that her organization would “eliminate the USDA food and we’re going to trust God to provide. If God can multiply fish and loaves for 10,000 people, he can certainly bring in food for our food pantry so we can continue to feed the hungry.”
Apparently no one bothered to tell Daly that her group is not allowed to distribute food and Bibles or force someone to listen to a sermon in order to get food. This First Amendment legal issue has been settled for decades. For instance, soup kitchens, no matter what religious affiliation, are not allowed to force people getting food from them to listen to a sermon before the food is served or eaten.
Some charities ignore this and get away with it for ages before being caught, but they are not suppose to be sermonizing or proselytizing.
Media Matters notes that Starnes is setting up a false choice and presenting it as if it is fact.
Starnes presents as evidence a George W. Bush executive Order which was amended by President Obama in 2010 as if it supposedly forces the charities to abandon their faith even though the order states that these faith-based organizations are free to engage in “explicitly religious activities (including activities that involve overt religious content such as worship, religious instruction, or proselytization).” However, they are not allowed to use the federal funds that they get in order to engage in religious activities.
Media Matters notes that “Starnes is quick to mischaracterize the ministry’s opportunities and obligations, failing to note that the organization appears to be violating federal law by keeping religious information in the food distribution area and pushing Bibles on those seeking help from CSC.”
Unfortunately, the CSC makes it clear that they are using federal funds in order to further their religious mission saying that their calling is to “to help people in need and to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are going to pray with them. We are going to offer them a Bible. We are going to counsel them in Christian help. We are going to use our chapel.”
What Starnes calls a choice between “God or the government cheese” is actually about these faith-based organizations demanding the right to disrespect other people and prey upon the needy. They are not there to help others, but to aggrandize themselves by taking advantage of a captive audience and forcing them to participate in their religious beliefs, and what is worse, they are using federal dollars to, basically, bribe people into believing in their vision of Christ.
Starnes is presenting not just a false choice, but defending an organization which wants nothing more than to prey on the needy.