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Bush's Faith-Based Funding Proposal Would Ring in Faith-Based Discrimination

"Do Ask. Don't Hire?"

The Salvation Army's proposed "deal" with the Bush Administration, exposed by the Washington Post yesterday, should be ringing alarm bells--not donation bells--according to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, whose federal lawsuit will be the first to be adjudicated in the nation challenging funding of pervasively religious social services.

Despite White House pronouncements, the Foundation contends Bush's Community Solutions Act of 2001 (HR 7) to expand federal funding of "faith-based" social services by billions of tax dollars would usher in an era not only of government-funded religion, but government-fostered discrimination.

"It seems the Salvation Army policy is 'Do ask. Don't hire,' " said Foundation president Anne Gaylor.

"Forgotten in this controversy is the plight of the gay client or non-Christian in need of government-funded social services who is sent to this anti-gay, proselytizing church," she added.

The White House is contending the 1964 Civil Rights Act permits even government-funded church groups to discriminate in hiring practices. Permitting hiring discrimination is a key provision of the original "charitable choice" provision authored by former Sen. John Ashcroft, which passed in the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation's federal lawsuit challenges government funding of Faith Works, a self-described "inherently Christian," "faith-based" organization in Milwaukee which uses church attendance as a hiring consideration, and has received more than two-thirds of its funding from taxpayers--at least $750,000 so far in public funds since it opened in December 1999.

Faith Works' "Statement of Faith, Theology & Spirituality" calls religion an "integral part" of its longterm, residential treatment program for addicted men. The statement says Faith Works' purpose is "to develop a community of believers," that it combines the AA 12-step model "with scriptures" and that "12-steps is a way to dialog with Christ."

The Foundation's brief, filed in May, documents the pervasively religious nature of this program. Faith Works has discretionary support from former Wis. Gov. Tommy Thompson, has a contract with the state Department of Corrections, which sends parolees to the program, and subcontracts with other welfare-reform agencies to receive additional funding and recruits.

Faith Works says it "relies on the Christian experience of the staff member who has successfully, through Christ, combated addiction and homelessness" and is now reconnected "to God" by making the "soil fertile for evangelism." It openly says its aim is to "bring homeless addicts directly to Christ and to open hearts to the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Church and bible study attendance are considered necessary for successful completion of the program.

Faith Works rents a convent with a permanent cross on its front entrance, and has religious posters and wall hangings. In the first phase of the program, men to go chapel at 7, noon prayers, nightly bible study at 8, in addition to daily AA meetings that are "faith enhanced."

As a candidate last summer, George Bush made an official campaign stop at Faith Works, holding it up as a model of the kind of program he intends to fund under his proposed "faith-based" initiative.

In its court brief, the Foundation contends: "Here, the State of Wisconsin is illegally coercing the plaintiffs to support a substantially religious program, just as if the state was supporting a church, or buying bibles, or paying for construction of places of worship. The State essentially becomes a patron of a religious establishment."

Precedent in the case, before Federal Judge Barbara Crabb, is an April court victory won by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, in which the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled direct funding of faith-based schools to be unconstitutional.

"We're arguing that this is direct funding of religion in its purest sense," Gaylor noted.

The 7th Circuit previously ruled in 1996 that Alcoholics Anonymous 12-steps program constitutes a religion.

"Where public money goes, public accountability should follow," said Gaylor. "This is not the case at Faith Works. If the Salvation Army has its way, there would be no such accountability on a nationwide scale, and government-funded religious groups would be free not only to proselytize, but to openly discriminate, at taxpayer expense."

Gaylor said the revelations about the Salvation Army machinations rang an additional alarm bell: the inevitable prospect of churches and religious groups diverting donations intended for charity to instead lobby and strong-arm public officials for more favors and government funding.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, founded as a national association of freethinkers in 1978, works primarily to defend the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state.

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