Sunday, March 23, 2008

Bush's Faith-Based Initiative: Insidious Path to Theocracy

This is my contribution to the Blog Against Theocracy blogswarm. (Note: Bold blue italics are quotations, anything in red is emphasis I have added to the quotes).

It's been seven years since President Bush announced his "faith-based initiative" to allow public money to fund nonprofit organizations sponsored by religious groups.

The purpose of the initiative was to establish "a White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives that will have lead responsibility to:

"Establish policies, priorities, and objectives to enlist, equip, enable, empower, and expand the work of faith-based and other community organizations to the extent permitted by law.

-Ensure that policy decisions and programs are consistent with the President's stated goals with respect to faith-based and other community initiatives.

-Integrate the agenda affecting faith-based and other community organizations across the Federal Government.

-Coordinate public education to mobilize public support for faith-based and community nonprofit initiatives.

-Eliminate unnecessary legislative, regulatory, and other bureaucratic barriers that impede effective faith-based and other community efforts to solve social problems.

-Ensure that the efforts of faith-based and other community organizations meet high standards of excellence and accountability."

In addition, the executive order:

"Establishes a Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives within each of the Departments of Justice, Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development, to:

-Coordinate efforts to eliminate regulatory, contracting, and other programmatic obstacles to the participation of faith-based and other community organizations in the provision of social services.

-Incorporate faith-based and other community organizations in department programs and initiatives to the greatest extent possible.

-Increase the participation of faith-based and other community organizations in Federal as well as State and local initiatives."

Although money would now be funneled from the government to groups whose main purpose is a religious one, there supposedly would be "safeguards" put in place to ensure church and state remained separate:

"Secular helping agencies must be available in the same areas as faith-based helping agencies, so that people who need help do not have to accept the religious aspect in order to get the help.

-No government funds can be used for proselytizing or other inherently religious activities

-Government should be neutral, providing funds based on the program results and not on the specific program structure (religious vs. nonreligious).

-Funding for faith-based and secular helping agencies is provided from the same source. There is no "set-aside" strictly for religious organizations."

Now, seven years later, a document called "The Quiet Revolution: The President's Faith-Based and Community Initiative: A Seven-Year Progress Report Letter From President Bush" sums up the progress against his mission:

"The first Presidential initiative launched by the Bush Administration, the FBCI has grown each year and adapted to emerging challenges and expanded its influence at home and abroad. The framework of this activity includes:

-Five Executive Orders expanding the FBCI reach across the Federal Government;

-Sixteen agency-level rule changes and a myriad of smaller scale policy reforms to level the playing field for faith-based and community organizations;

-More than a dozen presidential initiatives aimed at some of society's most stubborn social problems;

-Provision of in-person training to build capacity for more than 100,000 social entrepreneurs;

-Measurement of the FBCI's progress, and ongoing improvement of program components as necessary;

-Replication at the State- and local-government level.

The FBCI initiated a profound cultural change resulting in wider acceptance of faith-based organizations in community problem-solving, as well as a heightened understanding of results-driven collaborations between government and the nonprofit sector. As this report shows, the FBCI has been a quiet revolution in how government engages community partners to address human need and how public and private interests combine for the common good."

The question is, how much of this "profound cultural change" has led us down the slippery slope toward theocracy? This initiative has been largely flying under the radar, and many Americans may not be aware of the profound changes it has wrought.

According to Americans United for Separation of Church and State,
"The law governing the separation of church and state has been shaped by dozens of U.S. Supreme Court decisions and thousands of decisions by lower federal courts and state courts."

Nevertheless, there are watchdog groups that are on top of this and are trying to roll back these changes. There have been a number of lawsuits attempting to thwart some of the provisions of the Faith-Based Initiative.The link above provides summaries of a number of recent court decisions.

One recent success story was a case entitled Americans United v. Prison Fellowship Ministries, when in 2006, Americans United won a lawsuit in federal court challenging the Iowa Corrections Department's support for Charles Colson's InnerChange, a prison program that trains inmates in evangelical Christianity.

Another group that has spearheaded a number of successful lawsuits defending the separation of church and state is the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Throughout the Bush administration's tenure, there has been opposition to the Faith Based Initiative programs.

According to the Boston Globe, in 2006 two leading Democrats on the House International Relations Committee said they want to investigate President Bush's faith-based initiative...

" determine whether taxpayer funds are being used to reward Bush's Christian conservative supporters and whether the faith-based groups are using the funds to help gain converts. follow up on an October report by the Globe that the Bush administration has given 98.3 percent of the faith-based foreign-aid money to Christian groups and to examine whether faith-based groups are using taxpayer funds to help their proselytizing efforts.

...The Globe reported that Bush has doubled the percentage of US foreign aid dollars going to faith-based groups and that the president systematically eliminated or weakened rules designed to enforce the separation of church and state.

As a result, some faith-based providers attempted to recruit members immediately before or after providing government services, and others favored Christians over Muslims.

...The Globe also reported on cases in which secular groups said they were denied funding because they emphasized the distribution of condoms or worked with prostitutes in an effort to stop the spread of the AIDS virus.

...Bush was unable to win congressional approval for the faith-based program even with Republicans in control of Congress
, so he used executive orders to implement the program."

Concern has been raised in many quarters about these faith-based initiatives; Former President Jimmy Carter was very outspoken in his criticism of the program, according to an article published by The Associated Press last May:

"Carter offered his harshest assessment for the White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which helped religious charities receive $2.15 billion in federal grants in fiscal year 2005 alone.

'The policy from the White House has been to allocate funds to religious institutions, even those that channel those funds exclusively to their own particular group of believers in a particular religion. Those things in my opinion are quite disturbing,' Carter said. 'As a traditional Baptist, I’ve always believed in separation of church and state and honored that premise when I was president, and so have all other presidents, I might say, except this one.' "

The various ways this initiative violates the separation of church and state are detailed in the "Americans United for Separation of Church and State" website. As the site explains...

"Charitable choice became part of the welfare law in 1996, but the federal government was hesitant to implement the policy due to constitutional concerns. Moreover, only a handful of states have altered their programs to allow for government funding of religious ministries.

Now, however, the Bush administration is working to apply charitable choice to nearly every aspect of government funding."

The site includes a comprehensive list of the reasons this initiative is bad for the country:

- By using government funds to support religious organizations, the initiative in effect forces taxpayers to subsidize religion they may not believe in.

-Charitable choice raises the specter of federally funded employment discrimination. Under Bush's proposal, churches would be legally permitted to discriminate on the basis of religion when hiring, despite receiving a massive infusion of public dollars.

-Religious institutions would receive taxpayer support while seeking to convert people seeking assistance. Disadvantaged people would be vulnerable to coertion while receiving needed services and benefits.

- Religious institutions themselves do not necessarily benefit from this initiative, and could face unwelcome interference by the government. The government always regulates what it finances...Once churches, temples, mosques and synagogues are being financed by public funds, some of their own freedom to run their organizations as they see fit could be at risk.

-Another risk to the religious organizations involved could be a diminution of voluntary contributions from members and other contributors, due to the perception that the government would now be taking care of these needs.

- The faith-based initiative pits religious groups against each other in competition for public funds.

- Some faith traditions could be favored over others when it comes to doling out money from the public treasury.

Interestingly, according to "Americans United," "opposition to faith-based public funding spans the ideological spectrum. Americans have raised complaints about these proposals regardless of their party affiliation, religious belief or political ideology. In fact, in recent years, a large number of religious and public policy groups have joined together in coalition to oppose charitable choice plans.

... Some clergy expressed concern about government funds threatening the prophetic voice of their faith community while others were troubled by an unhealthy intermingling of religion and government.

...In the political arena, reservations surrounding faith-based schemes are not limited to a traditional "Democrat v. Republican" argument.

Since the public policy debate was announced, criticism has been levied against charitable choice from the right, left and center.

All of these fears over unhealthy cooperation between church and state have done little to dissuade charitable choice's advocates. After years of debate, the crusade to expand the policy continues unabated, with billions of tax dollars at stake.

...Ultimately, public funding of faith-based institutions is one of those rare proposals that harms virtually everyone affected by it. The initiative promotes publicly funded employment discrimination, it threatens the religious liberties of beneficiaries, it jeopardizes the freedom of our faith communities and it undermines the rights of all taxpayers."

Please be sure to check out the other information on the websites linked above, as well as First Freedom First and all of the other posts on the Blog Against Theocracy blogswarm.


Fran said...

I read this on my reader earlier and realized I had not come to the site to actually comment. Now it is late and I will be brief. (am i ever brief?)

What I will say here is BRAVO for a great post.

I was railing against Bush and what he had done in TX using "faith based" groups when he started to run for president in the late 90's.

It was clear where he was headed from back then.

Now it is worse.

Mauigirl said...

LOL, Fran, I just came back from commenting on your blog to find your comment here!

I had a lot of trouble formatting this and kept republishing it - does that make it show up on your reader each time? I hope not, as I tend to do that a lot!

Thanks for your "bravo" - it took me forever to write this today. I was trying to find the latest information about this initiative and it took awhile to find the most recent stuff.

I was gratified to see there are a lot of other sites out there keeping an eye on what he's up to in this regard.

Anonymous said...

MG, great job on this post. There was so much information to absorb, I don't know where to begin. I've always had the sense that Bush's "Faith-based" initiatives were insidious. In my mind, this is no different than his administration's funneling of money to his friends at Haliburton and Blackwater. It appears that his MO is this -- I'm President. I've favors to repay. I've got wads of cash in the Treasury. Problem solved.

As you so succinctly pointed out, like theocracy, faith-based initiatives have absolutely nothing to do with faith at all.

Snave said...

What a great post! Nice job!

I didn't know about the blogswarm re. this topic or I would have been in on it. The intrusion of religion into government (and vice versa) has been a major peeve of mine for at least the last decade, and I agree with author Kevin Phillips ("American Theocracy") that the conversion of the GOP into America's first religious political party will contribute to America's eventual downfall.

I don't want my tax dollars going toward the promotion of Christianity or any other religion, plain and simple. I want to see churches pay taxes like most everyone else does...

Snave said...

I forgot to mention these. I don't know how to make these appear as working links in a comment, but they should work if they are pasted into one's browser. I believe they reflect the opinions of a couple of the foremost thinkers of our time.

Chris Dashiell said...

Wonderful, detailed post. The Bush "faith-based" programs, in addition to being a violation of the First Amendment, are a fraud designed to cater to the right-wing "Christian" demographic. Meanwhile, government assistance to those who really need continues to be undermined.

Sue J said...

Excellent post! This is another area where religion has been creeping into the government arena with very little attention from the public.

Thanks for reminding us!

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TomCat said...

Maui, this was very well done and right on target. Thanks. I contributed three articles to this as well.

Mauigirl said...

Spartacus, thanks. I have the same feeling about school vouchers that let people get voucher to pay toward private religion-sponsored schools for kids. It's just one more way to get public money to pay for religious purposes - which simultaneously diminishes the amount that goes to secular groups or schools.

Snave, I agree, it's a pet peeve of mine too; blogging against theocracy was one of the first "political" subjects I tackled when I was a very new blogger! I'm hoping this year is seeing the first time the GOP and the religious right may be starting to part ways a bit. The RR are not fans of McCain and I think underneath he is not fans of theirs, although he tries to pander to them on occasion. I'll be sure to check out those links you posted!

Chris, thanks so much! And I agree, one of the big problems with this faith-based stuff is that it undermines the non-religious charitable groups.

Sue and Tomcat, thanks!

Tomcat, I'll have to read your three! I saw that you had several and need to get time to sit down and read as many as I can of all the other great posts on Blog Against Theocracy. It will keep me busy for a year, I think!

Eva said...

Visiting from afar to say "wow - great post!"

You are preaching to the choir, girlfriend. Ha - pun intended, I suppose!

TomCat said...

There sure were a bunch of good ones, Maui. Mine are both at my place and Mock, Paper, Scissors.

Mauigirl said...

Eva, thanks for visiting and commenting! Preaching to the choir, good analogy! ;-)

Tomcat, I'm going to have time today to do more visiting and reading on the Theocracy issues!

libhom said...

This is a great post. To your many excellent points, I would like to add a point of my own.

"Faith-based" programs are inherently discriminatory against atheists. They force atheists to subsidize religion with tax money, and they create hostile environments for atheists who are seeking government funded services.

Mauigirl said...

Libhom, very good point, I agree completely.

This makes me think about some of the other stupid things Bush's administration has done, such as insist on "abstinence only" programs to prevent AIDS and teen pregnancies. This type of thing is religion-based as well, and our tax dollars go to support them even though no research has shown that abstinence programs work better (or I should say, as well as) programs promoting condoms or birth control, respectively.

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