With the dramatic increase as of late of people needing financial assistance for everything from health care to food to shelter, I'm beginning to see an uptick in conservative attempts to tie assistance to moralizing, conformist demands that you listen to and obey the edicts of right wing religious assholes. First, this attempt to turn the high rate of Medicaid-covered childbirth into some kind of moral issue regarding their idiotic sex rules for other people, and now this: Todd Starnes is trying to make it an issue that the federal government requires religious charities that take federal money to refrain from proselytizing. The group was using the food distribution as a hook to get people into a roomful of religious materials and pushing Bibles on them. Starnes is defending this as necessary behavior.

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.

“The (person) told us there was a slight change in the contract,” Daly told me. “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."....

In other words – the Christian Service Center had a choice: choose God or the government cheese.

So in a spirit of Christian love and fellowship, Daly politely told the government what they could do with their cheese.

“We decided to eliminate the USDA food and we’re going to trust God to provide,” she told me. “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.”

I love how he had to work the dog whistle phrase "government cheese" in there, making sure that you understand that while he loves this little charity, he has contempt for the people they serve.

As Megan Hatcher-Mays at Media Matters notes, Starnes is creating a "false choice" here. As he reluctantly admits, it's not like the church was told to stop existing or that they had to curtail their religious propaganda in any of their other activities. Just that when they were very specifically working with grants from the federal government, they couldn't use the federal resources to try to get people to join their church.

Starnes incorrectly describes the Executive Order, which was originally signed in 2002 by then-President George W. Bush and later amended in 2010 by President Barack Obama, as requiring the ministry to abandon its religion. In reality, it provides that faith-based organizations participating in federal programs remain free to engage in "explicitly religious activities (including activities that involve overt religious content such as worship, religious instruction, or proselytization)." However, pursuant to standard First Amendment case law, ministries must perform such activities and offer such counseling "outside of programs" that are federally funded. This condition on federal funds, a well-established form of ensuring constitutional compliance, ensures recipients of federal aid will not be forced to participate in religious activities they object to in order to receive food or assistance.

All they had to do was not have the food distribution in a room where the Jesus-shit was going on. That's it. This might seem preposterous if you've never been inside a church building before, but I can tell you that many to most of them have tons of rooms that are just boring old rooms that don't have any religious pamphlets or even religious pictures up. That's because churches are often used both for religious purposes and non-religious purposes---AA meetings, adult education classes, political talks (I've even done some in churches), and yes, charity events---all which explicitly serve believers and non-believers alike, and thus tend to be scrubbed free of any religious stuff. So yeah, full of shit.

Here's what I really think is going on: Starnes and his fellow travelers believe that food assistance should come with strings attached, in this case having to put up with religious propaganda to get the assistance. You know, if a church wants to do that, it's their right, though I do think it's a little less than charitable. But once they're taking taxpayer money to feed people, they cannot and should not be able to use that money to try to sell their religious beliefs. The government belongs to all of us, and making it a requirement to endure proselytizing just to get access to food the government pays for is beyond the pale.

But this is a constant theme on the right, one that seems to be getting a little louder these days, that simply needing help means that your forsake certain basic rights to religious liberty, from your right to determine for yourself what your beliefs regarding premarital sex are to your right to access government-funded services without being bullied into talking about Jesus. It's gross and exploitative.