Threat to nonprofits seen

Nonprofits’ free speech is being stymied by federal policies and actions, says a new paper by a government watchdog group.

In its paper, OMB Watch in Washington D.C. says the federal government has unfairly targeted nonprofits that oppose Bush administration policies or that back causes unpopular with Bush and his allies.

Taken together, the group says, these instances have created an environment of fear that is making some nonprofits reluctant to speak out or advocate for certain issues like HIV/AIDS or pregnancy prevention, even when using non-government funds.

“It is vital to our national interest that their voices continue to be heard loud and strong and not be suppressed,” says Robert Bothwell, co-author of the report.

The paper cited Advocates for Youth, a nonprofit advocacy group that says it was audited by the federal government three times in one year after publicly criticizing Bush’s proposals for abstinence-only education.

“The message being sent is clear,” says James Wagoner, president of the organization.  “If you get government money, keep quiet or you’ll be audited.”

The paper also says the “global gag rule”, which prevents federal money from going to organizations that support abortion, is being applied too aggressively, and that the federal government is selectively enforcing laws against some nonprofits.

It also says homeland security rules put into effect after Sept. 11 are hampering charities’ efforts to carry out their mission, especially international groups.

“Public discussion of issues should be based on the merits and include all those who want to be heard – without fear of retribution,” the paper says.

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