Since 2016, $450,000 in Arcus grants went to the Center for American Progress, which was founded by John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s last presidential campaign manager.
The grants funded projects like promoting religious liberty “as a core progressive American value that includes LGBT equality and women's reproductive health and rights.” The Center for American Progress sponsors a self-described “Religious Exemptions Public Literacy Project” that will oppose “religious exemptions policies that have a negative impact on women, LGBT, and POC (person of color) communities.”
Since June 2016, the Arcus Foundation appears to be focusing on controversies at Catholic institutions and schools where staff who publicly support or contract a “gay marriage” have been fired for contradicting Catholic doctrine. Some Catholic institutions have faced lawsuits over such employment decisions and invoke religious freedom protections as a defense.
In an apparent complement to its work on religious freedom limits, the foundation has also been funding some self-described Catholic groups that reject Church teaching on marriage and sexual morality, among them Dignity USA, the Equally Blessed Coalition, New Ways Ministry, and Catholics for Choice.
The Arcus Foundation outlines its strategy in a section on its website. It aims to mobilize “moderate and progressive faith leaders” and to leverage “strategic opportunities in historically resistant faith communities,” including Roman Catholic churches. It said that some resistant communities “still afford opportunities for making limited but significant progress.”
“In keeping with the focus on religious exemptions, Dignity USA and the Equally Blessed Coalition are working to combat the firing of LGBT staff and allies, who support marriage equality, at Catholic Institutions,” the foundation’s June 2016 announcement continues.
The Arcus Foundation gave a $250,000, two-year grant to Dignity USA to fund the Equally Blessed Coalition, in order to “ support and give voice to the growing majority of Roman Catholics who support full acceptance and equality for LGBT people.”
A 2017 grant gave $35,000 to New Ways Ministry to help develop the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics and its work “to connect the work of pro-LGBT Catholic organizations in every region of the world.” The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics had engaged in advocacy related to the Church’s Synod on the Family.
In February 2010 Cardinal Francis George, then-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, released a statement on New Ways Ministry, which is also part of the Equally Blessed Coalition. Cardinal George rejected the claim that the group presents an authentic interpretation of Catholic teaching and Catholic practice. “Their claim to be Catholic only confuses the faithful regarding the authentic teaching and ministry of the Church with respect to persons with a homosexual inclination,” he said.
In October 2016 New Ways Ministries gave its Bridge Building Award to Father James Martin, S.J., editor-at-large of the Society of Jesus’ America Magazine. The priest’s lecture at the award ceremony was the basis for his book “Building a Bridge,” on Catholic-LGBT relations
In 2016, the Arcus Foundation gave a one-year grant of $125,000 to Catholics for Choice, to fund a coalition of religious leaders to oppose “discriminatory religious exemptions,” as well as a different coalition to oppose “religious intolerance” in southern and eastern Africa.
The U.S. bishops have frequently criticized Catholics for Choice, saying it is not affiliated with the Catholic Church. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, speaking as the bishops’ pro-life chairman in September 2016, charged that it is “funded by powerful private foundations to promote abortion as a method of population control.”
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Arcus Foundation grantees have been linked to doctrinal changes within mainline Protestantism as well, including groups that helped split the Anglican Communion. In 2011 and 2012, the Arcus Foundation provided financial support to raise the national profile of Center for American Progress’ expert V. Gene Robinson, whose controversial election as the Episcopalian Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 helped split the Episcopal Church and the global Anglican Communion.
Non-Christian religions are also a focus.
A June 2015 grant of $100,000 to Muslims for Progressive Values suggests religious exemptions sought by some Muslims are also unacceptable to the foundation. The grant listing voiced hope that the group’s advocacy at the United Nations would assist “in asserting that ‘religious exemptions,’ such as reservations on the basis of Sharia law, are unacceptable on matters of human rights.”
CNA took a screenshot of the Arcus Foundation’s grant listing to Muslims for Progressive Values in mid-2016. Since that time, the grant listing on the foundation website appears to have been changed to read simply “general operating support,” rather than directly listing advocacy against religious exemptions. The grant is one of several six-figure Arcus grants to the group, including one given to cultivate LGBT activists among imams and other Muslims
Kevin Jennings, a co-chair of Muslims for Progressive Values, is a former Arcus executive director and Obama Administration official. Reza Aslan, the controversial Iranian-American author of the book “Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” is a consultant for the group, according to its website.