Only 27 days 'til Christmas, and you see them everywhere. At the grocery store, the mall, and on every corner you can hear the familiar tinkling bell before you even get out of the car. Folks passing by drop dollars and change into the red kettle, symbol of all that is charitable and good. Since 1865, funds from the famous kettle have provided shelter, food and social services to millions in need. Representing the second largest charity in the United States, the kettle raises over $2 billion a year. But today, the red kettle has lost its shine for me.
I must have been in a bubble when stories of gay discrimination by the Salvation Army first came out over a year ago. I had even authored a diary about them in 2010. While so many charities have been tarnished in the public eye for discrimination (Susan B. Komen, for example), the Salvation Army had remained pure in my eyes. But not any more.
Apparently, not only do they discriminate against the LGBT community, Australian Salvation Army Major has said that gays should die. In an interview on the radio program Salt and Pepper, when asked by gay hosts Serena Ryan and Pete Dillon about his organization's assertion (in its official Salvation Story: Salvationist Handbook of Doctrine) that practicing homosexuals "deserve to die.", his reply was "You know, we have an alignment to the Scriptures, but that’s our belief."
Although the same Handbook of Doctrine explicitly states: "The Salvation Army’s international mission statement affirms that ‘its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human needs in his name without discrimination’, Bill Browning and his partner would disagree. When Bill and his partner were briefly homeless in southern Indiana twenty years ago:
“The Salvation Army refused to help us,” Mr. Browning recalls, “unless we broke up and then left the ‘sinful homosexual lifestyle’ behind. We slept on the street, and they didn’t help when we declined to break up at their insistence.”Since when do charities have the right to discriminate based on religious or sexual preferences? Apparently, in the U.S., since Bush II issued his convenient interpretations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) empowering violations of basic protections.
Mr. Browning’s boyfriend was wearing a “Silence = Death” AIDS pin on his jacket, which must have tipped off the Salvation Army worker. “He told us we needed to be saved,” Mr. Browning says. “If we were willing to attend church services, he could help. We would have to break up, only one of us could stay in the shelter, and if there was room for the other, he would have to be on the opposite side of the room, and we wouldn’t even look at each other.”
According to Aseem Shukla, co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation, "as a Hindu American taxpayer in Minnesota, my federal tax dollars could go to a church in Alabama that runs the soup kitchen. But that church could use money saved due to federal funding to sponsor a mission trip to India to coerce Hindus to convert and join its ranks. And if a Cambodian American citizen who practices Buddhism were to apply to a server position at the church, that person could be denied the position unless he were to convert."
The White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, established under Bush II as a vehicle for 'compassionate conservatism', awarded 2.2 billion in grants in 2005 to faith-based organizations. Despite criticism from Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union, that it violated the Establishment Clause by using tax money to fund religion, the OFBCI remains viable today under President Obama. While restrictions on FBOs that accept government funding have been created by the White House to protect separation of church and state, specifically that FBOs cannot discriminate on the basis of religion when providing services, that restriction has obviously been violated.
When asked about Faith-Based Religious Discrimination at a town hall meeting in 2011,
President Obama stated: " I think we’ve struck the right balance so far, but this is something that we continue to be in dialogue with faith-based organizations about to try to make sure that their hiring practices are as open and as inclusive as possible."
Well, Mr. President, I don't think we have the right balance at all. As long as FBO receive my tax dollars to impose their religious beliefs on those in need before providing social services in the name of charity, and to further discriminate against individuals based on their religious or sexual preferences, we will never have it right. As for me, the red kettle will shine no more, nor will its coffers receive my charitable gifts. Instead, I'll be giving them a voucher: