Is the goal of a charity food bank to help feed hungry people — or to win converts to a religion?
It seems that some Christian food banks are chafing at new regulations telling them that they cannot force people who come in for a meal to participate in religious activities.
PennLive reports that some homeless shelters are now refusing to accept food donated by the government after the U.S. Department of Agriculture pushed out a new regulation earlier this year that barred “organizations receiving food from the federal government from requiring people being given food to attend or participate in religious activities.”
In an interview with PennLive, Bethesda Mission Executive Director Chuck Wingate said that his food bank wasn’t forcing homeless people to pray, and insisted that his decision to stop accepting food from the government was a stand for religious freedom.
“We don’t force our faith on anybody else,” he said. “But we find the whole idea that the government’s going to come in and tell us what we can and cannot do in our own facility to be out of bounds, especially in matters of faith.”
However, Jennifer Powell of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank told PennLive that the directive from the Department of Agriculture was put in place because “there are some programs that mandate Bible study or a Christian prayer before the meal.” She also noted that Christian food banks that merely offer people the option of prayer aren’t violating the regulation.
Indeed, New Hope Ministries Executive Director Eric Saunders, whose shelter is continuing to receive government food donations, told PennLive that the new regulations weren’t that big of a deal to him because while “we’ll always offer prayer, we’ll always offer spiritual counsel for those that want it, we’ll just never make it a requirement.”