IFAS | Freedom Writer | Summer 2001 | faithbased.html

Faith-based plan snagged as conservatives air concerns

In March, the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives announced that the program would be put "on hold" until some problems could be worked out. While opposition from groups that support the separation between church and state was expected, backlash from religious conservatives put a damper on President Bush's plan to support religious groups that provide social services.

Citing federal support of groups such as the Hare Krishnas, the Unification Church, the Church of Scientology and other non-Christian institutions, the Rev. Pat Robertson expressed concern over Bush's faith-based initiative. On his "700 Club" TV show in March, Robertson said that government's plan to fund religious groups "could be a real Pandora's Box."

Robertson also suggested that Christian groups receiving federal money might become dependent on government handouts. "That's the number one danger, the federal rules will envelope these organizations, they'll begin to be nurtured, if I can use that term, on federal money, and then they can't get off of it. It'll be like a narcotic, they can't then free themselves later on. And the second problem-and it's a serious problem-is that people of every aberrant group known to man can apply to the federal trough.and I think the vast majority of American people find this intolerable."

Other fundamentalists, such as the Rev. Jerry Falwell, and Richard Land, of the Southern Baptist's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, expressed their concerns over President Bush's plan after he said: "Government, of course, cannot fund, and will not fund religious activities. But when people of faith provide social services, we will not discriminate against them.

As long as there are secular alternatives, faith-based charities should be able to compete for funding on an equal basis, and in a manner that does not cause them to sacrifice their mission."

But then John J. DiIulio Jr., who is in charge of the program, criticized conservatives saying that they are, "predominantly white, exurban evangelical leaders," and that they have a "lack of interest in urban problems."

Evangelical leaders are now afraid that the government will restrict their proselytizing efforts if their organizations accept government funding. Many evangelical social programs, such as Teen Challenge, which has 156 centers in the US, and uses conversion to Jesus to combat drug addiction, could not operate without their religious component.

In fact, in May, John Castellani, Teen Challenge's executive director, caused a stir in Congress while testifying before a House Government Reform Committee. He admitted that Teen Challenge does not hire non-Christians, but does take them as clients. He even went so far to boast that his group converted some Jews to Christianity, and called them "completed Jews."

"The religious component is not just part of our program; it's the heart of the program," said Dave Batty of Teen Challenge in Brooklyn. "We don't treat drugs as a major problem. We introduce men and women to a whole new way of living, to a relationship with Jesus Christ."

Marvin Olasky, who introduced Bush to the whole idea of the government supporting faith-based groups, concluded with his own twist on the problem. "If the government puts out the welcome mat for some religious groups and tells others to 'opt out,' it is preferring one religious belief over another. This is exactly the type of religious discrimination that the First Amendment is designed to prevent."

© 2001 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.