|Herb's Op Ed Piece in P&C|
The article below is by Herb Silverman and was published in the Post and Courier on April 3 as part of a series presenting various viewpoints on the topic of Government Funding of Faith Based Organizations:
In a 1971 decision, the Supreme Court formulated the "Lemon test,"
which has three requirements for any law pertaining to religion: It
must have a secular purpose; it must have a primary effect that
neither advances nor inhibits religion; and it must not foster an
excessive government entanglement with religion.
With this in mind, over the years, government has sometimes contracted
with religious institutions to provide social services. Those
religious institutions were required to keep social services separate
from religious activities, and the services provided had to meet
widely accepted professional standards.
President Bush changed all that with his faith-based initiative,
which appears to disregard the Lemon test. So far, Congress has
refused to sanction the initiative because it permits taxpayer dollars
to go directly to churches and other faith-based organizations, and
they could require a religious test as a condition of employment. So
the president bypassed Congress and put much of the program in place
through executive order.
President Bush views refusal to fund religious organizations as
discrimination against religion, and says he is only seeking equal
treatment for faith-based organizations. But secular social service
providers receiving federal funds cannot practice religious
discrimination in hiring.
Allowing faith-based groups to discriminate is not equal treatment --
but favoritism for religion. If the services funded by government are
not religious in nature, as Bush claims, there is no justification for
using religion as a hiring criterion. Cooking soup and giving it to
the poor can be done equally well by people of all faiths or none.
Religious groups that now get government funding may invite
recipients to participate in the organization's religious services.
Once there, attempts will likely be made to convert them. Those who
receive government aid are usually in positions of need and
dependency, making them more vulnerable to associating religious
conversion with financial assistance. But government must not be in
the business of promoting religious conversion.
And what about taxpayers? Integral to religious liberty is the right
for taxpayers to choose whether or not to support religion and which
denominations to support. President Bush is now forcing Americans to
give their tax dollars to government-sponsored religions.
On what basis does the government decide which religions to
subsidize? Televangelist Pat Robertson, an enthusiastic Bush
supporter, was a harsh critic of the faith-based initiative -- until
he received a $500,000 grant. And the Rev. Herbert Lusk of Greater
Exodus Baptist Church in Philadelphia, who endorsed Bush during the
2000 campaign, received a nearly million dollar grant in June of 2004.
He then said he hoped this program would encourage more blacks to vote
for Bush's re-election.
The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, leader of the Unification Church and
self-proclaimed messiah, hailed President Bush's faith-based
initiatives. Subsequently, his organization received at least four
federal subsidies. One $475,000 grant was for his Free Teens USA
abstinence-only program, which emphasizes the importance of blood
lineage and other Unification Church tenets. Was it the high quality
of Moon's programs, or his contributions to conservative causes and
generous donation of a million dollars to the Bush presidential
library, that made him so successful in attracting federal grants?
When the government favors some faiths, or subtly encourages
religious leaders to engage in political activity for financial gain,
it can only create competitive tensions among religious groups and
foster divisiveness in a pluralistic society.
Aside from the many legal and ethical problems that stem from
government entanglement with religion, what kind of evidence do we
have that faith-based programs are as effective as secular ones? Let's
look at the program the White House viewed as a role model.
When Bush was governor of Texas, he brought in Charles Colson's
Prison Fellowship to implement "InnerChange Freedom Initiative," a
program of Bible reading, prayer sessions and counseling.
Subsequently, President Bush invited Colson to the White House to
celebrate the claimed success of the program. Its graduates had
dramatically lower rearrest rates than a control group.
However, a more careful look at the statistics revealed that the
program did not work! The problem was that the Bush administration
only looked at "graduates," those who stuck with the 16-month
in prison, continued with it outside of prison, and got and kept a
job. This study ignored the 102 out of 177 prisoners in the program
who did not graduate. For ex-inmates, just getting a job is one of the
best predictors for staying out of trouble. When comparing all
participants in the program with the control group, Colson's group was
actually more likely to have been rearrested. Perhaps job training
instead of prayer would have been more effective.
Of course, this is only one example. But hardly any data exists from
objective studies comparing the results of religious and secular
programs. Most of the comparisons are anecdotal. Bush's favoring of
faith-based organizations seems to have come more from his own
personal faith and from his heart than from hard data.
People who need assistance should not be denied. But President Bush
has not proposed more government funding for governmental service
providers. He wants to cut funds from those secular programs that have
strong records of effectiveness and redirect the money to religious
groups that use unproven, unaccredited and unregulated methods.
School voucher and tuition tax credit programs are further instances
of government entanglement with religion. Parents have the right to
send children to private schools or to home school them, but they have
no right to expect the government to help pay for the religious
education of their children. And the overwhelming majority of private
schools are church schools.
Voucher schools do not have to abide by state laws that prohibit
discrimination against students or employees. While we insist that
public schools meet national educational standards, there is no such
accountability for private schools. Some of them do provide good
educational opportunities, but others appeal to parents who wish to
shield their children from secular horrors like sex education and
As an educator, I find it painful to see any student complete school
without studying even the rudiments of the theory of evolution, which
is as established in the international scientific community as the
theory of gravity. Religious fundamentalists worry more about
evolution than about gravity only because evolution conflicts with a
literalist interpretation of the Bible. Not one taxpayer dollar should
be spent teaching creationism, unless it is in a literature or
mythology class that compares the Judeo-Christian creation story in
Genesis to the Hindu story of Brahma creating the world from a golden
egg. "Scientific" creationism is an alternative to Zeus or Krishna,
not to Darwin.
The framers of our Godless Constitution (and I'll give $1,000 to
anyone who can find the words God or Jesus in it) had the foresight to
establish the first secular country. They recognized that religious
institutions must rise or fall through voluntary contributions, not
through taxes imposed on all citizens. Forcing taxpayers to subsidize
religions they may not believe in is no different from forcing them to
put money in the collection plates of churches, synagogues or mosques.