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Author/DatePost
Alex_Kasman
Apr 5 2005
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

program

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

evolution.

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.

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