Flood of Faith-based Funding Proposals Unleashed by Bush (March 2003)

President George W. Bush has unveiled a plethora of proposals to fund “faith-based initiatives” so far this year.

In December he bypassed Congress with his executive order to Cabinets to allow pervasively religious groups to apply for public social-service grants without modifying religious content.

He couched the executive order as a ban on “discrimination” against faith-based charities, largely directed toward human services funding.

In January, the Administration dropped a stealth bomb–quietly publishing a proposed rule to allow churches, mosques, synagogues and religious groups to apply to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for federal grants to construct church buildings. Churches would be eligible to apply if any part is used for “social services.” (See banner story above.)

At his State of the Union speech, he unveiled several proposals to fund faith-based approaches to social problems.

At a speech before the National Religious Broadcasters in February, Bush said: “The role of government is limited, because government cannot put hope in people’s hearts, or a sense of purpose in people’s lives. That happens when someone puts an arm around a neighbor and says, God loves you, I love you, and you can count on us both.”

Yet he proceeded to spell out his intention for this “limited” government to promote religion and his belief that “faith” will “help solve the nation’s deepest problems.”

“But governments can and should support effective social services provided by religious people, so long as they work and as long as those services go to anyone in need, regardless of their faith. And when government gives that support, it is equally important that faith-based institutions should not be forced to change the character or compromise their prophetic role. I think the charities helping the needy, it should not matter if there is a rabbi on the board, or a cross on the wall, or crescent on the wall, or religious commitment in the charter.”

Critics note that Bush is not increasing social-services funding per se, only encouraging religious groups to vie against secular groups for current or decreasing social-services funding. A listing of Bush’s latest “faith-based initiatives” follows.
Drug Treatment Program

In his January State of the Union address, Bush asked Congress for $600 million for a new drug treatment program, “Recovery Now,” to endow community providers, especially religious groups. Treatment would be provided for 300,000 drug addicts and alcoholics over the next three years.

Bush said he looked forward “to working with the Congress to empower programs which work, particularly faith-based programs which work, to help save Americans one heart, one soul, one conscience at a time.”

White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives director Jim Towey explained to the Washington Post: “This program is funding treatment, not worship. But what you would term ‘worship’ is integral to a successful treatment program.”
In his speech Bush cited the Healing Place Church, Baton Rouge, La., as an example of what he seeks to fund. That church relies “solely on . . . the Word of God to break the bands of addiction.”

Bush also invited Henry Lozano of Teen Challenge in California to sit in Laura Bush’s box during his address. This signals that Bush intends to fund overtly proselytizing groups, including those relying exclusively on faith, such as Teen Challenge, rather than programs combining religion with a medical approach. (According to an analysis of Teen Challenge’s financial forms by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Feb. 9, 2003, that Christian group spends only one-fifth of its budget on programs, with the rest going toward overhead and fundraising.)

Teen Challenge’s approach is similar to that of Faith Works of Milwaukee, singled out by Bush on the campaign trail as a prototype of faith-based funding. Faith Works’ mission is to lead “homeless addicts to Christ.” The Freedom From Religion Foundation won the first federal lawsuit in the nation against faith-based funding, when a federal judge in January 2002 declared direct funding of Faith Works to be unconstitutional.

(The judge later ruled against the Foundation’s challenge of indirect funding of Faith Works through state contracts, involving state referral of men on parole or probation. In a decision issued after the Supreme Court’s infamous pro-school voucher ruling last summer, the federal judge compared such referrals to “vouchers.” The Foundation has appealed the ruling; oral arguments were heard by a 3-judge panel of the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Feb. 12.)

Faith Works is similar to many overtly religious drug treatment programs in that it had no AODA-certified staff, relied on “witnessing” and did not meet federal standards in credentialing and training. Under Bush’s proposal, uncredentialed religious treatment programs would be on equal footing with programs that follow the protocols of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, which statistically have the best success rate.

To make legal challenges more difficult, Bush promotes this scheme as a “voucher” program, whereby clients, at taxpayer expense, would allegedly be given a choice of programs, including religious treatment, in some 25 states, territories or Indian tribes.

Mentor Program

In his State of the Union address, Bush called on Congress to finance a $450 million program to provide mentors for a million children, especially those who have a parent in prison. Bush called this part of his “compassionate conservative” effort. His proposal would give $150 million over the next three years, through the Department of Health and Human Services, to help more than 100,000 adolescent children of prisoners find an adult mentor. It also would allocate nearly $300 million through the Department of Education over the next three years to support “the development, expansion and strengthening of mentoring programs” for disadvantaged middle school students.

The HHS press release notes: “Through the mentoring initiative, federal agencies will work with nonprofit, community and faith-based organizations that train volunteer mentors and pair them with children in need.” HHS notes this will expand earlier acts to create and increase mentoring programs “through networks of community organizations, including religious organizations.”

D.C. Voucher Plan

Bush is asking Congress to set aside $75 million in federal money for a school voucher program in the District of Columbia and seven or eight other cities in his 2004 budget.

A spokesman for District Mayor Anthony A. Williams said the city flatly opposes any voucher program. He contends it would drain funds from the school district and other forms of secular school choice, such as public charter schools. In 1981, 90% of D.C. voters rejected a tax credit to allow school vouchers to be used for religious or private school tuition.

In the face of opposition by D.C. officials, the Administration is toying with the idea of giving the money to a “nonprofit” to run the voucher program.

Marriage Promotion Grants

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson announced on January 2 that he would award more than $2.2 million in grants to 12 states and a variety of religious, nonprofit and tribal organizations for child support enforcement–with $550,000 designated for programs endorsing marriage.

The Marriage Coalition, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, received $199,994 to “test” a curriculum for poor parents on the value of marriage and child support. Marriage Coalition director Sandra Bender described her group to Associated Press as “a nonprofit organization of inter-religious clergy, mental health professionals and individuals dedicated to reducing the divorce rate and birth to unmarried parents through education.” It trains clergy and counselors to work with engaged and married couples.
(In May 2000 the Freedom From Religion Foundation won a federal lawsuit in Wisconsin against funding a similar program for clergy to promote a “Marriage Savers” agenda for ministers working with engaged couples.)

Community Services for Children Inc., Allentown, Pa., got $177,373 to work with local church groups to provide marriage education and other services to unwed couples.

The proposed budget also calls for $300 million to be spent by the federal Administration for Children and Families on premarital counseling, and pro-marriage and fatherhood educational campaigns. The Administration is led by fundamentalist Wade Horn. Critics accuse the administration of using marriage initiatives as a smokescreen to hide its failure to effectively aid the more than 11 million U.S. children living in poverty. Welfare rights organizations argue that education and training, as the surest path out of poverty for low-income women, are what should be funded.

School Prayer Directive

The Bush Administration issued a directive on Feb. 7 warning the nation’s public schools they risked losing federal funding if they ban prayer by students.

“Public schools should not be hostile to the religious rights of their students and their families. At the same time, school officials may not compel students to participate in prayer or other activities.”

The instructions are patterned after the guidelines issued by the Clinton Administration, allowing prayer outside classroom instruction and initiated by students.

However, the new guidelines say students taking part in assemblies may not be restricted in expressing religious ideas as long as the speakers are chosen through “neutral, evenhanded criteria.” Schools may issue disclaimers that the student speech does not represent the institution.

Significantly, the changes include permission for teachers to meet with each other for “prayer or Bible study” before school or after lunch, provided they make it clear they are not acting in their “official capacities.”

The changes are being implemented through the “No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.” The letter to schools signed by Secretary Paige refers to “constitutionally protected prayer in public elementary and secondary schools.”

Paige advised officials that students may “read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals, and pray or study religious materials with fellow students during recess, the lunch hour, or other noninstructional time to the same extent that they may engage in nonreligious activities.” He did remind officials that they may not “compel students to participate in prayer or other religious activities,” nor may teachers or officials “encourage or discourage prayer, or participate in such activities with students.”
Department of Labor Grant

The Village Voice (Jan. 29 – Feb. 4, 2003) published an exposŽ about an ongoing example of faith-based funding through the Department of Labor. In early October, the department made one of the first international faith-based funding awards, granting $700,000 to the International Justice Mission, a Washington, D.C.-based Christian group. The mission describes itself as “an explicitly Christian ministry” to deal with human rights abuses.

The money is allocated to counter child trafficking in the hills of northern Thailand near Myanmar and Laos, where, the Voice reported, members of the Akha hill tribe, targeted for conversion, are increasingly wary of missionary meddling.
“With the region’s average monthly wage pegged at something less than $100, the sheer size of the $700,000 grant is raising eyebrows,” wrote Voice reporter Steve Hargreaves.

Iowa Prison Program Challenged

Two federal lawsuits were filed in Iowa on Feb. 12 challenging InnerChange, a state-financed evangelical Christian prison program giving privileges to participating inmates.

Watergate felon Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries runs the Christian program at Newton Correctional Facility. The program is also running at prisons in Minnesota, Kansas and Texas.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which filed the challenges on behalf of one Mormon inmate and three relatives of inmates, noted:

“This program contains everything that is wrong with the president’s faith-based initiative. It uses tax dollars for pervasively religious programs, allows discriminatory hiring, gives preferential treatment to one religion over others, funds coercive conversion efforts and basically ignores the whole notion of a separation between church and state.”

The recruitment brochure for InnerChange advertises:

“This program confronts prisoners with the choice of embracing new life in Christ and personal transformation, or remaining in the stranglehold of crime and despair.”

Staff and volunteers must sign a statement of belief in the bible as literally true. Participants in the 18-month program live in one cellblock and are given privileges such as access to computers, large-screen TVs, free phone calls and keys to their cell doors. Participants pray, take bible study and are mentored by church volunteers. The Iowa program has had 215 participants and 125 graduates, according to Jerry Wilger, executive national director of InnerChange.

The State of Iowa subsidizes InnerChange by adding a surcharge to telephone calls to and from inmates.

Freedom From Religion Foundation