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Freethought Today

Vol. 20 No. 9 - Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. -
November 2003

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In The News

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which was sued by several firefighters this year over its chaplain policy, agreed as of Sept. 1 to halt operation of the Chaplaincy Program. Employees may only provide chaplain services on a voluntary basis on their own time. No CDF or state funds, materials, facilities or equipment will be used to perform chaplain duties.

No employees may perform chaplain duties while wearing an official CDF uniform or patch. They may offer "words of inspiration" at CDF events "so long as the words of inspiration are nonreligious."

The term "CDF Chaplain" is "no longer appropriate," and may not be used on official correspondence, business cards, letterhead, voicemail, emails, etc. The case was settled in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Western Division. (Information provided by George Mason, Calif.)

Health and Human Services Sec. Tommy Thompson in September awarded $30.5 million in grants to 81 groups, to provide technical assistance and sub-grants to church-related and community groups in 45 states.

Fifty grants of $50,000 were given to groups in 35 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands to serve at-risk youths and homeless people. Larger grants were awarded to intermediary groups to provide training and technical assistance to faith-based and community groups. At least 25 percent of the grant money is to go to grassroots organizations assisting individuals with homelessness, addiction or incarceration of a parent.

Sixty new grants totaling $8.1 million will "help faith-based and community organizations expand and strengthen their ability to provide social services," according to the HHS.

HHS announced a grant of about $24 million to support 21 continuing grants under HHS's "Compassion Capital Fund" to build the capacity of faith-based and community groups to provide social services.

HHS's Compassion Capital Fund was created two years ago, with a $35 million budget for the current fiscal year. Bush's budget proposal would increase support for the Compassion Capital Fund to $100 million in fiscal year 2004. The Administration said these actions will remove "unnecessary barriers" to create a "level playing field" for faith-based groups to compete for federal dollars.

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In late October, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao awarded more than $1.5 million in grants for Memphis workforce projects to area "faith community" groups.

"The president believes in the power of faith to transform lives. There is no one closer to the heart and soul of the needy than the faith-based groups," Chao told 2,000 people at a government conference of faith applicants for federal funding.

Memphis is one of two cities the Labor Department has chosen to test a model between workforce readiness agencies and faith-based groups. The Memphis Leadership Foundation and the Hope Center of Greater Community Temple Church of God in Christ will use a $98,000 grant from the Labor Department to support substance abuse treatment and employment services for 45 people.

The Christ Community Health Service in Memphis received a $1.95 million HHS grant to provide medical care for three years to the poor.

The Bush Administration in late September announced that religious charities providing social services may compete for $28 billion in federal grants. The Administration proposed new rules that would:

  • Let job retraining vouchers train recipients to work in a church, synagogue or religious institution.

  • Let religious charities working with the Veterans Administration display symbols, such as crosses.

  • Make it easier for faith-based groups to receive donations of forfeited assets, previously barred indefinitely. Such property may now be used for religious purposes after five years.

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    Cabinet members met with the president at the White House in late September to discuss eliminating barriers keeping "faith-based" groups from obtaining federal grants. Four new government regulations were announced on Sept. 21 to provide federal money for religion-oriented programs run by people Bush calls "neighborhood healers."

    Labor Secretary Elaine Chao announced two changes: one regulation to let training vouchers be used by people pursuing faith-based careers, the second to help faith-based institutions compete for federal contracts even if they discriminate in hiring based on religious beliefs.

    Mel Martinez, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, announced rules letting faith-based groups compete for $8 billion in housing grants. "This is a monumental thing for us because in the past we have seen not only a negative feeling, but outright hostility to organizations of faith."

    Changes will be unveiled soon at the Justice, Education, Labor and Veterans Affairs departments.

    With a backdrop of banners bearing crosses reading "King of Kings" and "Lord of Lords," Pres. Bush told a cheering audience on Oct. 28 at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, Dallas:

    "Government has no business funding religious worship or teaching. However, our government should support the good work of religious people who are changing the world.

    "You've got to understand that sometimes, and a lot of times, the best way to help the addict, a person who is stuck on drugs and alcohol, is to change their heart. See, if you change their heart, then they change their behavior. I know," said the self-avowed former heavy drinker and rowdy.

    "All levels of government ought not fear programs based upon faith [and] must understand the power of faith programs to make the communities in which we live a better place."

    Bush spoke of "miracles" and a "higher power bigger than people's problems."

    November 2003 Excerpts