As the recent battle for a proper understanding of religious liberty shows, our culture and many of our government leaders and organizations are becoming increasingly secularized and hostile to religion and religious practice.

Yet another example of this is a recent rule change in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). According to this program, a person who has been engaged in Public Service employment for ten years, can have the remainder of their Student Loan form the government forgiven, presuming they have faithfully been paying it up till then.

However, a recent rule change now excludes those who are involved in any work of a religious nature. In the Washington Post “On Faith” section writes the following to explain the change:

What counts as public service?

Until the end of January, the government definition was clear and inclusive. It read as follows:  “Qualifying employment is any employment with a federal, state, or local government agency, entity, or organization or a non-profit organization that has been designated as tax-exempt by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC).

Now though, the rules have changed. At the end of the description of who qualifies for this program, a new paragraph appears and it’s striking not only in that it re-defines things, but that it does so in a way that seems purposefully disingenuous.

“Generally, the type or nature of employment with the organization does not matter for PSLF purposes. However, if you work for a non-profit organization, your employment will not qualify for PSLF if your job duties are related to religious instruction, worship services, or any form of proselytizing.” [1]

Thus, the new policy explicitly goes out of its way to exclude religious work. In effect it implies that such work is NOT public service, merely because it is exercised through a religious organization for a religious purpose.

Consider that the PSLF program exists because work for a tax exempt organization is generally considered to be of special value to the community. Many tax exempt organizations (like the Church), and those who work them provide care for the poor, special outreach to immigrants, pro-bono or lower cost legal assistance, and the like. The Church, in particular, runs shelters, soup kitchens, schools, hospitals, dental clinics, and so forth.

And, further, there was a traditional appreciation for the fact that religious instruction, and the care of souls, was something that benefited the entire community,  since such care helps to instill personal stability, generosity, commitment, respect for law, strong families and other civic values.

In recognition of the value of such work, and in order to encourage others to undertake it, programs like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness are offered, and churches, non-profits and other 401-C3 organizations have been granted tax exempt status.

Again, note the reason, they are tax-exempt and receive certain other benefits in recognition of the fact that they provide a valuable service to the the community.

The new wording of the law says, in effect, that offering religious benefits and services, the care of the soul, is no longer to be considered worthy of the benefit, that is, such work is no longer to be considered valuable enough that such workers will qualify.

Endless arguments will likely ensue as to the Church/State debate. But note that this is a CHANGE in the law. Those involved in religious work have always been included until now. Mr Hirschfield in his article asks,

Are clergy and teachers of religious faith/thought public servants? Is their work on par with that of others who work for 501c3 non-for-profit groups and for government agencies? It used to be, but as of January 31st, the federal government has changed its mind about that….[2]

He adds,

While religion can be abused in the most horrendous ways, it remains a source of enormous social good and unprecedented public service. The new regulation seems to uphold only one of those truths, and in doing so, is actually taking a position on faith (dare I say, “establishing” one?) – a hostile one. [3]

Yes, hostile would seem to be the word. And that, in a word, is increasingly what secularization is coming to mean: Hostility to religion. In the recent past we who are believers considered secularization to be an unfortunate forgetfulness of God or a disregarding of things spiritual and Godly. But in recent years secularization has increasingly taken on a direct hostility to religious faith, to its existence in the public square, and to its practice anywhere outside the four walls of a Church.

The new PSLF wording illustrates and proceeds from just that kind of growing and “accepted” cultural hostility. Mr. Hirschfield concludes:

…While church-[state] separation is a wise and necessary policy, separation is not about discrimination against, or hostility towards, religion. The regulation, as newly reformulated is clumsy at best, insensitive for certain, and may even be illegally hostile to religion. This one needs to change. [4]

Here’s a video on the well known and related matter of Religious Liberty in case you missed it:

44 Responses

  1. John says:

    I have to say this argument sounds greedy. The change in the program does appear to strike out against religious organizations, but I was pretty sure we wanted to be treated differently. I don’t expect much less by the government, I feel like everytime they ask us to fit into their system, we say “don’t tell me what to do!”, and when they don’t make us part of their system we say “don’t treat me different!”. We can’t have it both ways.

    People dedicated to working for the church already make huge financial sacrifices to teach at Catholic schools and work at parishes, out of their faith and out of their love of our Church. If we as a Church believe so strongly that programs like this are vital, then WE can put together money and pay for it. Does it feel like we are owed for the work the church does for society? Sure, but I thought we were told to not ask for something in return for our good deeds. If we want to play by our own rules, we can’t go looking for special treatment and recognition.

    • You’re missing the point and they have you just where they want you….i.e. you support ushering religion to the door. This is not about religious folks taking taking money (everyone is doing that and that’s a valid discussion for another day) this is about singling out religion for special hatred. Wake up John. How sad that yours is the first comment, a comment that totally misses the point. You can go live in your little insulated world that interacts with no one, but as for the rest of us, the determination by the State that religion has no public value is a significant change. You live in your bubble, the rest of us will speak out to say that Faith has significance and that legislation that denies that ought to be exposed and challenged.

      • Brian says:

        Well said Monsignor.

      • Rob says:

        I’m going to print that out and repeat it verbatim the next time I hear any Catholic defend Obama.

        And with your spirit Msgr.

      • Ray says:

        I have to agree with you on this Msgr., this is nothing less than another attack on religion. This is especially obvious when you consider that recently the current administration mandated that religious institutions must supply their employees with abortions and birth control options.

        • DewyB says:

          This is not an attack on religion. You use words like Hatred and Hostility when it is not. It is simply reflecting that your “Care of Souls” is not needed anymore than an “Aura Cleanser” is needed.
          Religion already plays TOO strong a role in public policy making, with too little measurable contribution. Stick to operating in the Private Sector and we’ll let you keep your tax exempt status.

  2. Bender says:

    the new policy explicitly goes out of its way to exclude religious work. In effect it implies that such work is NOT public service, merely because it is exercised through a religious organization for a religious purpose

    So, under PSLF the work done by Catholic organizations does not qualify as public service because it has a religious purpose.

    And under the contraceptive mandate, those exact same Catholic organizations do not qualify for the religious exemption because they provide services to the public and thereby do not have a religious purpose.

    Have I got that right?

      • Joe Goodwin says:

        I saw that only those involved in religious instruction, worship services, and proselytization were excluded. It looks like this exclusion looks more at the individual job description than the nature of the organization per se. Of course, these things overlap. But if I am working as a chaplain at a hospital, I suppose I would have to be subject to scrutiny to make sure I am only providing inocuous “spiritual and emotional care” and “companionship” or counselling, and not doing things like arranging Masses for patients, instructing catachumens, or encouraging people to receive sacraments. What this does is separate the material benefit of this work from its telos and its essential qualities, thereby seriously injuring its value. Call it vocational contraception.

  3. Ruth Ann says:

    I repaid my college loans and was forgiven a certain amount of them because I was a teacher at a Catholic inner city school in Chicago. I taught religion and secular subjects. So, now that wouldn’t qualify because it included religious instruction???? What a shame for today’s young people.

  4. VistaNow says:

    Very sad that all the distortion, violence, sexuality and greed of money out there in the secular world is not being recognized as the fruit and seed of the devil and many are rendering unto Cesar their lives by unjustly seeking to destroy good deeds done by the Church. Even people who carry worldly emotional and physical wounds fail to embrace the beauty of Christianity as a way of living the Gospel. This prompts me to pray for them and for all, God loves all mankind and wishes all men to come to the realization of the truth. To render our hearts – not our garments

  5. Maureen says:

    Is there anything that can still be done about this??

  6. Fr. Ray W. says:

    Msgr:
    I just want to say that I read your posts every day. I am really awed and impressed by your great ablity and expertise to state so clearly the underlying issues of many of the things. You are truly a Renaissance Man.
    Please continue in doing this because you really do it so well.
    Thanks again.
    fr ray

  7. Dan Hammond says:

    On a related note, Catholic Social Services in Winston-Salem, NC in the past received grants from the North Carolina government for their Hand-to-Hand program, which supports teenage mothers who chose not to have abortions. CSS has been told by the State that they no longer qualify because they do not teach contraception. Their fine record of success in helping young women cannot compensate for refusing to teach contraception.

  8. mdepie says:

    This was all very predictable. We have only ourselves to blame because we voted in the people who are doing this, whose every prior political decision predicted they would do this, and whose allies have advocated they do this. 54% of Catholics voted for the leader of this Kulturkampf. When the original Kulturkampf was attempted by Bismark in 1870 Germany, it was ultimately defeated because Catholics organized poltically, they formed the Catholic Centre Party in Germany, which was single minded in opposing Bismark and his political allies. As they gained seats in Parliment Bismark eventually could not press on with his attacks on the Church and they ended. The Centre Party of note was initally a combined effort of the cleary and the laity ( the inital meetings that formed it were organized by both and aggressively supported by the German Catholic clergy.) The response of Catholics in America needs to be similar. Catholics should be in organized opposition to the Democrats who are doing this. The barrier to doing the same know is the passive fomulation that a culture war is “being waged” as if it is emerging from all sides out of some cultural ether. That is not true, IT is being legally waged by the Democrat party against the Church. That is the party passing the rules and laws that are driving this modern kulturkampf. To the extent that there are factors outside of politics driving this (the entertainment media, the academy , the mainstream media, they are staunch allies of the Democrats, and in fact financial backers. The facts are the facts and need to be recognized as such.

    • I dont disagree with your main point about politics. But it is also true that there are wider culture trends too. Even in the republican party there is hostility between the fiscal and social conservatives

  9. Erin says:

    Obviously I like everyone else am deeply concerned about the assaults on religion in this country. However, I think we have to be careful on this one, remembering that not all non-profit religious organizations are Christian ones. Do we really want to see people’s loans forgiven if they are Muslims or some others who spent that time trying to convert Christians to their religion? Which is happening here already… Or do we as Catholics not care that some of that proselytizing is done by Protestants pulling Catholics away from the Church? While it would not be our tax dollars directly paying for it, in some sense we may be paying for it, since the money that the government forgives will be paid for somehow by the government to whichever bank originated the loan, and that money it seems to me would come from our tax dollars somehow. So I think this is a little different than the contraception mandate issue. Maybe the answer is that we think it’s worth it even if it supports religions aside from our own, who may be trying to convert us, but we need to ask the question. And it will matter a great deal whether this rule is just a cover to ax all religious groups, even soup kitchens and the like, or whether it really will be targeted to preaching/worship kinds of activity. (And how can that be clearly demarcated anyway, in practice?) Just some thoughts.

    • Ray says:

      I don’t see this as a religious preference issue I see this as a constitutional issue. If they are going to forgive student loans, which I am opposed to, they can’t select which religions will be included and which will not. Whatever the rule is must apply to all religions equally. This is nothing other than an attack by secularists against all religions. Don’t forget, they had to change this rule to exclude faith based service organizations.

  10. Erin says:

    Of course, I may be changing my mind as I realize that probably Planned Parenthood and the like qualifies under this rule…. still, I think we should think it through. All groups that participate in destroying human life should be excluded, if there are going to be exclusions….

  11. Steve says:

    msgr Pope,

    I seems obvious to me that the secularization of a western nations would naturally lead to exactly what we see today Romans 1:24 sums it up pretty well. “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever ! Amen.”

  12. George says:

    This is part and parcel of President Obama fulfilling a campaign pledge he made to the secularists. The pledge was to end President Bush II’s “faith based initiative” and withhold federal funding from Christian organizations. Mr. O is doing just that.
    All in all, I think that is a good thing. The more the Church depends on Caesar’s tax dollars, the deeper Satan’s hook goes into her throat. Ripping it out is going to be bloody and painful, but necessary.
    Remember, the Church is IN this world, but NOT of it.

  13. Eric says:

    This is clearly reprehensible, but I’m a little skeptical. Does anyone else think the language is suspicious here? It doesn’t fit with the rest of the guidelines. The document starts out speaking in the third person, but suddenly changes to second person to exclude religious employment. Very unofficial sounding.

    Could this be a prank? Let us pray it is.

  14. Eric says:

    I made a few phone calls. Sadly, as far as I can tell, it’s not a prank. May God help us.

  15. taad says:

    I am not Sure the church in this country gets it yet. We can not make deals with these guys. This is a battle for keeps, yet I get the sense the USCCB thinks we can work this administration. It isn’t going to happen. I think this quote of JPII is even more clear today than in 1976 when he made it as cardinal:

    “We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel, between Christ and Antichrist. The confrontation lies within the plans of Divine Providence. It is therefore, in God’s Plan, and it must be a trial which the Church must take up, and face courageously…”
    Cardinal Karol Wotyla, 1976

    We are now in the battle of all battles, yet we have not all come to this conclusion.

    • Great quote. Is there a document or sermon you can cite as the source?

      • taad says:

        I have seen this quote for a number of years, but can not verify it’s source. The best I could come up with was he made this statement while in Phillidelphia at the 41st Eucharistic Congress. However it is not in the homily he gave for the Congress which is posted on EWTN’s documents. So if he said it in an interview or some other talk while in the US I do not know. You taught me a lesson on quoting thinks off the internet. Thanks.

  16. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    When you pick and choose your personal pet peeve to remove from the leviathan that has spawned these problems, then you are ignoring the truth of the situation we are all facing. The platform this administration is basing it’s motivations and launching it’s assaults upon this society is the stye the church chooses to remain silent about and so you have failed to lead your flock and cleanse it of the pestilence infesting our religious and moral well-being. The truth is, to vote for this administration is a grievous sin. All politics aside.

  17. Erin says:

    Just a little aside: the whole higher education business has become a scam that is lining the pockets of administrators and, to some extent, professors, but producing little in the way of good education. We see kids coming out of colleges now who have $50-100,000 in loans, and still can’t write a paragraph in decent English with standard punctuation, and who have been subjected to/soaked in secularist indoctrination to boot. AND they can’t even find a job! What a tremendous rip-off. The whole system needs reformed. We don’t need debt forgiveness but reform. People used to go to colleges that had almost nothing in the way of technology, and fewer professors per student, and the people came out actually able to read, write, do math. I think if I were a student today, I would find something else to do if my only option was to pay that much for so little benefit. Electricians make $80-90 an hour, did you know that? And no debt!

  18. Barbara Mayerle says:

    I found an article by Judie Brown (American Life League) which appeared 11-19-2008 in Catholic Online which is one source of the quote by JPII referenced by taad.

  19. James Bettis says:

    I don’t see that this legislation is all that bad. It does NOT say that ALL religious workers are excluded. It specifically defines WHICH religious workers are exempt. I am a chrisitian and find immense value in those that prostelytize, lead worship or instruction. It doesn’t say anything about people that are actually serving the homeless, feeding the hungry, taking care of the helpless. You want the Fed government to discriminate FOR you with the Contraception bill, but you don’t want them to discriminate against you in this case. I find your stances on the fed’ role in our daily lives to be self serving. You want them to “define” marriage based on your beliefs (not science or fact), and then exclude you from other legislation based on your beliefs (not science or fact).

    The point is that they are not discriminating against all religious workers, simply the ones that are not meeting the physical needs of those in our society. Although, I’ll agree that those positions do meet the spiritual needs of our community.

    • Well James. I got news for you, those of us who preach the gospel also help the poor, run schools, hospitals etc. As for me, I preach in a pulpit on Sunday and during the week have numerous occasions to serve the poor, and advocate on their behalf before the City Council and other places. Your concept of a religious worker who is “not meeting the physical needs of those in our society” is a straw man, a theory rarely if ever found. That said, this this new and unprecedented government norm or category, that you claim is so reasonable, is bound to be interpreted in a predatory way by them and others, like you, who find any recognition of faith obnoxious and will result in endless legal battles.

      And frankly James, even if I didn’t do things (and every true preacher and Christian does), what this new rule says is that our purely religious work which has ALWAYS been considered a social good (until now) is not considered to be be of social value. And if you are Christian, that ought to concern more than it apparently does. Inculcating religious values is a social good for the reasons stated in the article The loan forgiveness and the recognition of the special status of non-profits is granted because they profit the community.

      Finally, your premise is flawed. I do not what the government to “discriminate for” me. I want only the religious liberty the Constitution recognizes that GOD GAVE ME, not the Government, and I want the government to stop compelling me in any way to act against the faith that God gave. The government has no right to overstep in this way. As for giving loan relief, all I ask is for equal protection and opportunity under the law. Here again, the Government is illegally discriminating on the basis of faith, they are violating my my rights by unjust discrimination. I very much doubt that this new norm will stand up in the courts and am sure it will legally be challenged. It is the government that is limited by the First Amendment, not the Church and not the religious individual. Hence the whole premise of your objection is flawed.

      If you are Christian, as you state, then you ought to be a lot less sanguine about this than you are.

    • taad says:

      Another sad fact is that orders of sisters, like the Sisters of Life, are forced to pay for this coverage too! So we are going to force these sisters to violate their vows which they took. They are an order dedicated to protecting the sacredness of human life. This mandate is right out of the bowls of Hell!

  20. MaryS says:

    I’m wondering if it isn’t a cost-saving measure. Consider: “a person who has been engaged in Public Service employment for ten years, can have the remainder of their Student Loan form the government forgiven, presuming they have faithfully been paying it up till then” which means that you have to stay employed and make your loan payments. Many (most?) neglect their student loans. But I’ll bet the religious are far less likely to neglect them. So, by leaving the religious out of this benefit, the state is probably cutting their losses by half or more.

  21. J Gorny says:

    Just to provide an update, from their own FAQ:

    Q54 I am employed full-time by a qualifying not-for-profit organization that engages in religious
    activities. Does my employment qualify for PSLF?

    A54 It depends on how much of your job is related to religious activities. When determining full-time
    public service employment you may not include time spent participating in religious instruction,
    worship services, or any form of proselytizing. (March 14, 2012)

    Q55 I am employed full-time by a qualifying not-for-profit organization that does not engage in
    religious activities, but some of my job responsibilities are of a religious nature. Does my
    employment qualify for PSLF?

    A55 It depends on how much of your job is related to religious activities. When determining full-time
    public service employment you may not include time spent participating in religious instruction,
    worship services, or any form of proselytizing. (March 14, 2012)

    It sounds to me like this is essentially excluding pastors, religious educators and missionaries.

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