Christian Coalition’s “Samaritan Project” Primarily Aids Religion by Annie Laurie Gaylor (May 1997)

Unlike the last Congressional term, when the Christian Coalition passed down its “ten commandments,” this rightwing Christian group has a more modest “eight-part plan of action” for the 105th Congress. Most of its proposals for the 104th Congress, by the way, did not pass, but the CC created a lot of mischief and managed to dominate Congressional debates. Here’s what to watch out for this year. . .

First, let’s discard as political padding half of the CC proposals right off the bat: “safe neighborhoods,” “racial justice,” “empowerment zones” and “revitalizing the churches.” Who, after all, opposes safer neighborhoods? Including “racial justice” is the CC’s pretty meaningless sop to wary African-Americans whom the CC desperately needs to enlist in order to build its mass movement of fundamentalists. As for “revitalizing churches,” that is the kind of work a religious group is expected to do–so long as it isn’t done with public tax dollars.

But the heart of the new CC lobbying plan is its pursuit of a theocratic agenda, in particular seeking to promote religion and religious groups with public monies. Of special concern are the following “plans of action”:

  • “Strong Families.”From one of the groups most hostile to the idea of social welfare comes a lot of high falutin’ language waxing rhapsodic on “the family.” “Strong families” turns out to be lingo for opposing gay marriages and using public money to promote Christian-based “abstinence programs” in public schools.

    The CC takes responsibility for passing a rider to the new welfare reform law giving a bonus to states which reduce “out-of-wedlock births without increasing their abortions rates.” Needless to say, nowhere does it promote family planning. Although this law provided $50 million in funding for “abstinence programs,” the CC “will continue to seek additional funding for abstinence education,” by amending the Social Security Act to provide a minimum of an additional $150 million per year for “abstinence funding.” Want to take a guess how many of these precious public funds would find their way into the paws of various anti-sex education religious fanatics let loose in our schools?

    The CC’s other “family” objective is to make divorce harder to obtain–not good news for battered women– and to force divorcing couples with children to receive “counseling.” Already, religionists at federal and state levels are lying in wait to provide bible-based “counseling” at the expense of taxpayers.

  • “Hope and Opportunity Scholarships” sounds benign, but it’s just a new euphemism for taxpayer-supported religious education. The CC is lobbying for scholarships to low-income children (the same children it has gleefully abandoned in its welfare attacks) who are currently enrolled in “100 of the most impoverished, violent or drug-ridden school districts.” Public money would send kids to “a safer learning environment–whether it be public, private or religious.”(Many of us would regard a religious school and a “safer learning environment” to be mutually exclusive concepts. Most parochial schools certainly are not safer for growing minds.)

    The CC is cynically engaging in public-school bashing and shamelessly exploiting the real needs of poor children, in an attempt to set a precedent for the flow of public funds to religious schools. Once that faucet is turned on, there will be no turning it off.

  • “Charitable Giving”has been promoted as the centerpiece of the CC’s “Agenda for the 105th Congress.”

    “Christian Coalition intends to actively work toward the enactment of federal legislation which establishes a $500 tax credit for taxpayers who give both financial assistance and at least 10 hours of volunteer time to a private community service organization that serves the poor.”

    What happened to “Good Samaritans”? People who help other people for the sake of doing good and feeling good about it? People who donate money to charities are already permitted to deduct donations. (Of course, the CC isn’t saying whether it supports plans to remove standard tax deductions for charitable giving, which have been introduced by the armloads in Congress.)

    You’ll note that the ten measly hours of volunteer time which could count toward a tax credit must be given to a “private community service organization that serves the poor.” The CC might as well have come right out and used the word “church.” Although churches don’t have to prove where they put their money or services, they reap all kinds of rewards for being perceived as spending most of their money on the poor, when it fact they spend most of it on their buildings, evangelism and salaries. Can you imagine the delighted church-goers who would take this deduction for simply giving money to their churches and donating ten hours a year of the usual church-related volunteering, even if it has nothing to do with the poor? By contrast, I would not be eligible for this tax credit because I volunteer an hour a week as a mentor in a public school. (Which is its own reward, thank you.)

    This item represents sheer greed, and should be opposed by all with a true spirit of volunteerism.

  • “Faith Solutions”is the “biggie.”

    “Federal and state governments should recognize and support the important role that private and faith-based community organizations are serving in their communities, as well as the social stability that is enhanced through their efforts.”

    The CC is seeking to amend the Public Health Service Act to free states to give money to private (read: “religious”) drug rehab programs.

    “By enacting this anti-discrimination provision, faith-based programs will be free to apply for government funding without fearing that the religious character of their program and any religious symbols on their property would need to be purged.” In other words, they would receive public funding to preach at a captive audience of down-and-outers. Additionally, credentialing requirements should be waived. (Who needs a degree in counseling or medicine if filled with the “spirit of the lord”?)

    The CC shrewdly does not ask for federal funding of all religion-based social services . . . yet. The idea is to create precedent, and the floodgates will be forced open.

Not surprisingly, the CC lists “additional items on our legislative agenda,” including passing the so-called Religious Freedom Amendment (to nullify the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause); banning so-called “partial-birth abortion;” prohibiting federal funding of groups which perform or promote abortions overseas (read: Planned Parenthood); cruelly retaining the prohibition of abortion coverage in health benefit plans for federal employees, D.C. prisoners and Medicaid recipients; passing a pro-natalist $500-per-child tax credit; “privatizing” the National Endowment for the Arts and Legal Services Corporation, and passing a balanced budget amendment. (Whatever thathas to do with Jesus!)

The Christian Coalition is not a Good Samaritan. It is far more like the Big Bad Wolf. Like turn-of-the-century freethought attorney Marilla Ricker, I, too, am highly skeptical of Christians who pray, and spell it with an “e.”

The writer is editor of Freethought Today and the newly released anthology of women freethinkers, Women Without Superstition: “No Gods – No Masters.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation