Iowa Outrage: Dobson-Affiliated Religious Right Group Took In $3 Million In Federal Funds

“[E]ven if it meets the letter of the law, it doesn’t pass the smell test.” –Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu, on federal funding of IFPC

Just how rotten was the “faith-based” initiative under President George W. Bush?

Let the Iowa Independent fill you in.

In an April 16 report, the online newspaper reported that the Iowa Family Policy Council (IFPC) has received more than $3 million in federal grants through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The money was supposedly earmarked for marriage counseling.

And just who is the IFPC?

The Council is a state affiliate of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. An aggressive Religious Right group, it is known more for its hardball right-wing politics and ultra-conservative religious viewpoint than for its expertise in building strong marriages. The IFPC seeks governmental policies that “honor a biblical standard.”

We all know what that means: a ban on all abortions, no civil rights for gays, voucher subsidies for religious schools and whatever other policy they can bulldoze through to push Iowa toward a fundamentalist theocracy.

Council leaders, not surprisingly, have been having conniptions about the Iowa Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex couples to marry, and the group has been in the heart of the drive to overturn that ruling.

IFPC communications director Bryan English told the Independent, “This isn’t a civil rights issue. [Homosexuality] is a choice in behavior and as a Christian organization we don’t believe this is a right, it is a sin against Jesus Christ.”

Note to Bryan: this is America, not Iran. We don’t make public policy based on anyone’s narrow brand of religion. And, just as importantly, we shouldn’t be using taxpayer dollars to subsidize your kind of intolerance.

Fortunately, the reports about the federal funding for this group are stirring things up in the Hawkeye State.

Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu said, “Given the center’s religious orientation, its prejudices against a particular set of Iowans and its overtly political agenda, it would seem to defy logic and propriety for it to get taxpayer money.”

Basu doesn’t buy the Council’s argument that the federal funds just passed through its bank account on the way to a sub-unit that did the marriage counseling.

As the Independent reported, Mike Hartwig, the IFPC vice president, also happens to serve as the director for IFPC’s Marriage Matters department, which was the recipient of the federal grants. IFPC and Marriage Matters just happen to share the same office space in Pleasant Hill.

“[E]ven if it meets the letter of the law,” she said, “it doesn't pass the smell test. Whether it's one or two organizations, the Iowa Family Policy Center has an explicit social and religious agenda that some Iowans find discriminatory at best and hateful at worst. Since the federal government doesn't recognize same-sex marriage, this may not be a federal civil-rights violation. But it's certainly out of sync with Iowa.”

Basu added that it’s high time the Bush rules that allowed funding of this discriminatory group were overturned. President Barack Obama should keep his promise not to give public funds to any group that proselytizes or shows bias in hiring.

“If it took a presidential executive order to obliterate church-state lines,” she said, “it requires another to put them back.”

President Obama, are you listening?