Within the first quarter of 2009, the Obama Administration and
the 111th Congress have advanced a number of policies that will
undermine family and religious freedom in America. Together they
show a serious disregard for parental rights, human dignity,
freedom of conscience, and civil society in American life.
In these difficult economic times, policymakers should recognize
and empower the vast resources of family, religious institutions,
and civil society. Instead, Congress and the Administration have
systematically promoted policies that debilitate the protective and
problem-solving capacity of these fundamental institutions.
Undermining Family, Faith, and
1. Discouraging Charitable Giving. Even as charities
struggle to make ends meet during the economic recession, the
President's budget would reduce the amount higher earners can
deduct from their income taxes for their charitable giving.
Faith-based ministries and other non-profits serving the public
good are dependent on the generosity of others through charitable
giving. Individuals targeted by this proposed policy are some of
the most significant supporters of these charitable causes. The
Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University estimates that
households with the highest incomes will reduce their giving
annually by 4.8 percent, or $3.87 billion, in response to this
2. Blocking Educational Opportunity for Low-Income D.C.
Students. Due to a devastating policy included in the omnibus
bill, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is in danger of
ending after the 2009-2010 school year. Since 2004, this program
has provided approximately 3,700 scholarships worth $7,500 each for
low-income children to attend safe and effective private schools of
their choice. Evaluations show that parents are very pleased and
test scores are moving in the right direction, with students
regaining lost ground.
President Obama has made a smart choice in sending his daughters
to private school rather than the D.C. public schools. Low-income
parents should have the same opportunity to choose safe and
effective schools for their children.
3. Reducing Abstinence Education. The omnibus bill
reduces spending on the Community Based Abstinence Education
program by $13 million while increasing family planning funding by
A Heritage Foundation report indicates that the government
spends $12 to promote contraception and safe-sex education for
every dollar spent to encourage abstinence. Evidence shows that
abstinent teens report better psychological well-being and higher
academic achievement while avoiding risky behaviors.
Further, a 2004 Zogby poll revealed that 96 percent of parents want
teens to be taught that abstinence is the best option.
4. Rolling Back Conscience Protections for Health Care
Professionals. The Obama Administration has announced plans to
eliminate a regulation that protects the conscience rights of
doctors and other health professionals who object to participating
in controversial procedures such as abortion or sterilization. 87
percent of respondents to a March 2009 poll believe it is important
to "make sure that health care professionals are not forced to
participate in procedures and practices to which they have moral
5. Subsidizing Planned Parenthood. The omnibus bill
includes a provision that increases the profits of Planned
Parenthood and manufacturers of contraceptives.
Under Medicaid, drug companies are required to pay rebates to
the Medicaid program. Certain sales offered at discounts can be
excluded from the calculation of the "best price," reducing the
rebate owed to Medicaid. The omnibus bill expands the exclusion to
cover discounted sales of contraceptives through additional family
planning clinics. The result is that drug companies can sell
contraceptives at deeply discounted prices, and these lower prices
increase profits for the clinics that resell them.
Ironically, while forfeiting higher rebates from the sale of
these contraceptives, the President's budget proposes to increase
other drug rebates.
6. Restricting Parental Notification and Expanding Family
Planning. The President's budget seeks to expand family
planning services through Medicaid.
Initially proposed as part of the stimulus bill, this provision
was eliminated after attracting negative attention. Now back as a
part of the budget, the proposal would likely allow states to
disregard the income of an applicant or recipient for family
planning under Medicaid. This would allow a child--no matter what
his or her family's income level--to be eligible for free family
planning services without parental notification.
In addition, the proposal would supersede current law and would
likely not allow states to provide coverage without including
family planning services.
7. Using Tax Dollars to Finance Abortion Abroad. On
January 23, the President overturned a policy that prohibited the
use of U.S. tax dollars for family planning organizations that
provide abortions and abortion counseling overseas. 58 percent of
Americans disapprove of this decision by the Obama Administration,
according to a February 2009 USA Today/Gallup poll.
U.S. taxpayers should not have to pay to export this
controversial practice abroad, where it serves as poor public
diplomacy for the nation's commitment to life and liberty.
8. Taxpayer Funding for Controversial, Unproven Embryonic
Stem Cell Research. President Obama issued an executive order
authorizing federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research.
It also repeals a 2007 executive order that encouraged the National
Institutes of Health to explore alternatives to embryonic stem cell
research that do not involve destroying a human embryo.
While advocates of embryonic stem cell research discuss the
potential cures, many medical advances have already been achieved
by ethically sound, alternative stem cell research.
9. Violating Religious Groups' Equal Access on College
Campuses. The stimulus package offers funds for the renovation
of colleges and universities. These funds are prohibited, however,
from use in the renovation of facilities used for gatherings like
religious worship or sectarian instruction. This provision can be
interpreted broadly enough to keep groups such as the Catholic
Students Association or the Fellowship of Christian Athletes from
meeting in buildings renovated with these funds.
10. Rolling Back Successful Welfare Reform. The stimulus
package undermines the fiscal incentive structure that drove
national welfare reform.
The 1996 reform rewarded states for decreasing their caseloads
and putting people into jobs. As a result, the number of welfare
caseloads shrunk by more than 60 percent, and child poverty fell by
1.6 million. The stimulus bill moves in the opposite direction,
creating a new $5 billion cash welfare program that pays states
when their caseloads rise. This new program gives states an
incentive to grow their rolls, decreasing their motivation to move
people into jobs and self-sufficiency.
11. Expanding Dependence on Government. The stimulus
package combined with the omnibus bill and the President's budget
represents a massive expansion of overall welfare spending. The
stimulus bill alone will add nearly $800 billion in new spending
over the next 10 years on programs like food stamps, government
housing, and Medicaid. Significant changes to Medicaid and
SCHIP--programs intended for low-income Americans--have extended
eligibility to families well into the middle class, costing
taxpayers an extra $25 billion over 10 years.
12. Leaving a Legacy of Debt to Future Generations. Since
its start in January, the 111th Congress has already spent more
than $2 trillion in response to the recession, and that figure
could go much higher, incurring an enormous debt that will have to
paid by future generations. The stimulus package alone represents
an added debt burden of $9,400 per household in America.
These 12 policies represent a troubling new direction in social
policy. They will leave Americans less equipped to provide for
themselves and their neighbors in the midst of trying times.
Policymakers can ensure America's social welfare, economic
stability, and capacity to lead in the world by pursuing policies
that encourage stable family formation; show respect for parental
rights, conscience, and the role of religious institutions; and
create positive incentives for work, thrift, and private
initiative. In the first quarter of 2009, the Administration and
Congress have pursued policies that move in the opposite
A. Marshall is Director of and Katherine Bradley is Research
Fellow in the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil
Society at The Heritage Foundation.