Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

"Pervasiveness" in the religion clauses

One of the most problematical of the many problematical expressions in the judicial attempts to interpret and apply the First Amendment religion clauses is the notion of "pervasive sectarianism," which the plurality in Mitchell v. Helms argued has a rather shameful provenance in anti-Catholic bigotry and, in any event, should not matter, so long as the government’s permissible purposes coincide with those of the recipients of government aid. Nevertheless, the notion of a "pervasively sectarian" entity--and the implication that it is unworthy as a recipient of otherwise reasonable government aid or contracts lives on, surfacing most recently in the decision handed down by a federal judge in Iowa finding Iowa’s contract the Prison Fellowship Ministries’ InnerChange Freedom unconstitutional (for briefs on the other side in the appeal go here).

Well, in a sense the shoe is now on the other foot. Colorado’s pro-life Democratic Governor Bill Ritter has announced that he will resume providing state funds to Planned Parenthood, so long as PP doesn’t use the money for promoting or providing abortion. Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput doesn’t think that PP can properly segregate its funds, implying in effect that PP exemplifies a kind of pervasive sectarianism.

Since I would assume that he’d eschew that language and analysis with regard to Catholic and other religious institutions, I wish he’d extend the courtesy to PP (leaving open the possibility, of course, that PP could fail to live up to its obligations). And I’d hope that PP and its allies would return the favor with respect to faith-based organizations that they may not happen to like.

Update: I should explain that this post grew out of an email exchange with MOJ’s Rob Vischer, whose post is here.

Discussions - 1 Comment

"return the favor" -- that’s not how these people operate.

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