Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mandatory Volunteerism National Service Bill

On March 24, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1388: Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act
Next, the bill is headed to the U.S. Senate for debate.

The stated purpose of the GIVE Act, as found in Section 1101, is basically to encourage volunteerism in American communities. The language in the bill is filled with terms like "volunteer", "opportunities" and "communities" which all sound good. I'm not sure I know anyone who has a problem with encouraging people to become more involved within their local communities. What does present a problem to many is another apparently un-repealable law: the law of unintended consequences.

We all know which road is paved with good intentions. This long-standing saying still proves itself today. That is why certain portions of the GIVE Act have generated controversy. Some selections of this bill are reproduced below:

amending the following:


‘(3) YOUTH ENGAGEMENT ZONE PROGRAM- The term ‘youth engagement zone program’ means a service learning program in which members of an eligible partnership described in paragraph (4) collaborate to provide coordinated school-based or community-based service learning opportunities, to address a specific community challenge, for an increasing percentage of out-of-school youth and secondary school students served by local educational agencies where--

‘(A) not less than 90 percent of the students participate in service-learning activities as part of the program; or

‘(B) service-learning is a mandatory part of the curriculum in all of the secondary schools served by the local educational agency.

amending the following:


‘(6) Participating in, or endorsing, events or activities that are likely to include advocacy for or against political parties, political platforms, political candidates, proposed legislation, or elected officials.

‘(7) Engaging in religious instruction, conducting worship services, providing instruction as part of a program that includes mandatory religious instruction or worship, constructing or operating facilities devoted to religious instruction or worship, maintaining facilities primarily or inherently devoted to religious instruction or worship, or engaging in any form of religious proselytization.

‘(8) Providing a direct benefit to--

‘(A) a business organized for profit;


‘(E) an organization engaged in the religious activities described in paragraph (7), unless Corporation assistance is not used to support those religious activities.

With this language, the GIVE Act could be interpreted to mean middle school and high school student participation in these national service programs is mandatory. Also, students in these government programs are forbidden from practicing religion, getting involved with other private non-profit groups, or perhaps even getting a job with a normal business, nor can they voice objection to anything the government is doing. An alternative interpretation is that students who practice religion may be ineligible for programs in the GIVE Act or any number of other government benefits, but this could amount to religious discrimination.

I can't say what the likelihood is of these interpretations becoming reality. I can say I would feel better about it if such language were edited to alleviate my concerns. As it is presently written, I cannot support this bill, and would encourage anyone reading this blog to contact your Senators to voice objection to the selected portions of it. It is very likely some changes in the bill will be made in the Senate version, but that is no guarantee the sections printed above will be altered.

The question of whether the federal government should be involved at all at this level in our lives is a different matter altogether. I would encourage you to read the bill, though it is dry and quite long for what I would consider normal reading. That fact alone is also a problem for many Americans: that legislation is written in such a way as to discourage ordinary citizens from being well informed. That is one reason why this post provides information that is new for some of you.

In the United States, mandatory military service was stopped because of objections voiced by the public. Such objections typically suggested compulsory service conflicted with the founding premises of a free society. Regardless of one's opinion on the matter, our federal government accepted this argument, and so required enlistment ended. Ending mandatory military service established the precedent that our government cannot force us into government service. I must conclude that, likewise, compulsory service in the government programs pertaining to the GIVE Act, even for the noble goal of building community, should also be opposed. If you agree, please voice your objections publicly beginning with your Senators, and pass this message along to others.

H.R. 1388: Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act


  1. I see your point. It would be better if sub-section (a) were to be slightly changed to explicitly state that the restrictions are limited to those times when the "participant" is participating in the national service position. But, I don't think there is a significant risk that this provision, as written, will be construed as a 24-7 ban on the listed activites---certainly not something I'd get worked up about.

  2. I left out something in my previous comment. I failed to mention that I strongly agree with your other objection to the GIVE Act. It smells of the double-speak notion of mandatory volunteerism. I'd need to read more carefully to see if all of this is true, but here's what I'd be looking for:

    * Public school attendance is mandatory (with some exceptions).

    * Public schools are hungry for money, and will be hard pressed to turn down federal funds, even if there is a string attached that requires the school to be a "youth engagement zone."

    * To be a "youth engagement zone" the school will have to make volunteerism mandatory.

    **Thus, the federal government will, in essence, be bribing the states to wed their compulsory education laws with the federal gov't's requirement of mandatory participation, with the net effect being mandatory volunteerism for all high school students.

    Again, before I drew such a conclusion, I'd need to check to make sure all of the above factors were correct. But, if they are, I think that is totally out of line with several constitutional principles. The 13th amendment's protection against "involuntary servitude" probably being the strongest.

  3. I took your suggestion and wrote our two Senators about this. And I hope they bother to read the bill before voting on it, but I won't get my hopes up.