American Samizdat

Wednesday, October 11, 2006. *
At any moment, state inspectors can step uninvited into one of the three child care centers that Ethel White runs in Auburn, Ala., to make sure they meet state requirements intended to ensure that the children are safe. There must be continuing training for the staff. Her nurseries must have two sinks, one exclusively for food preparation. All cabinets must have safety locks. Medications for the children must be kept under lock and key, and refrigerated. The Rev. Ray Fuson of the Harvest Temple Church of God in Montgomery, Ala., does not have to worry about unannounced state inspections at the day care center his church runs. Alabama exempts church day care programs from state licensing requirements, which were tightened after almost a dozen children died in licensed and unlicensed day care centers in the state in two years.

The differences do not end there. As an employer, Ms. White must comply with the civil rights laws; if employees feel mistreated, they can take the center to court. Religious organizations, including Pastor Fuson’s, are protected by the courts from almost all lawsuits filed by their ministers or other religious staff members, no matter how unfairly those employees think they have been treated. And if you are curious about how Ms. White’s nonprofit center uses its public grants and donations, read the financial statements she is required to file each year with the Internal Revenue Service. There are no I.R.S. reports from Harvest Temple. Federal law does not require churches to file them.

Far more than an hourlong stretch of highway separates these two busy, cheerful day care centers. Ms. White’s center operates in the world occupied by most American organizations. As a religious ministry, Pastor Fuson’s center does not.

[It's like this: there's no standard for what is and is not religious organization in the USA beyond saying you are or are not a religious organization. Once you say you are, you are exempt from the law in significant and profitable ways. So if you are in need of being above the law and getting money for nothing, you can't pick a better way to do it than start a 'religious' organization. Meanwhile, are secular social services that do a quantifiable social good being funded well enough in your neck of the woods?]
posted by Trevor Blake at 12:36 PM
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