Way back in September of 2002 I wrote an entry in which I bitched about President Bush doing an end-run around Congress to enact his “faith based” initiatives that would gut several important protections of the Wall of Separation and allow religious organizations to receive taxpayer money without all those pesky strings that required them to not discriminate in hiring.
It’s been almost four years since then and what’s the end result? Pretty much what you would expect:
In 2005 alone, more than $2-billion in federal tax money went to faith-based programs for such services as job placement programs, addiction treatment and child mentoring. Overwhelmingly, this money went to groups affiliated with Christian religions.
This reallocation of social service money from secular agencies to religiously affiliated programs has also resulted in shifting employment opportunities. But some of these new employers have a shocking job requirement – only Christians need apply.
Goldberg cited the publicly funded Firm Foundation of Bradford, Pa., as a blatant example. The group provides prison inmates with job training, something one would think any trained professional could do. Well, think again. According to Goldberg, the group posted an ad for a site manager. It said that the applicant must be “a believer in Christ and Christian Life today, sharing these ideals when the opportunity arises.” Apparently, experience and qualifications are secondary.
Transforming social welfare into conversion therapy was Bush’s design when he made faith-based initiatives the priority of his administration’s domestic agenda. And his success has been astounding.
I’ll say it has. To date no legislation from Congress authorizing the creation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives has ever been passed despite continued attempts by the Republicans to get it pushed through after Bush had issued his Executive Order and yet almost no one in Congress has ever bothered to challenge the Administration over it. As you can imagine as soon as the restrictions against discrimination in hiring were removed a number of organizations decided it was time to purge themselves of the non-Christians in their ranks:
In Lown’s experience, the Salvation Army had always in the past been meticulous about keeping its evangelical side from mingling with its provision of social services, but all that changed in 2003. She attributes the change directly to Bush’s policies. A lawsuit filed by Lown and another 17 current and former employees of the Salvation Army alleges that religion suddenly pervaded the agency’s personnel decisions.
Lown says she was handed a form that all employees were expected to complete, asking for list of churches she attended over the last 10 years and the name of her present minister. Lown says she was told that indicating “not applicable” was not an option. A lawyer for the Salvation Army says the form was modified after complaints were received.
Margaret Geissman, who is also part of the lawsuit, claims that she was asked by a supervisor to point out gay and non-Christian employees, with the overt suggestion that there would eventually be a purge of sorts. The Salvation Army denies this.
Despite the Salvation Army’s disclaimers, Goldberg cites an internal Salvation Army document describing a deal struck in 2001 with the White House. In exchange for the administration passing regulations protecting faith-based groups from state and local antidiscrimination regulations relative to gays, the Salvation Army agreed to promote the administration’s faith-based agenda.
Despite the yanking of the antidiscrimination requirements the OFBCI does still have a requirement that FBOs “may not use direct government funds to support inherently religious activities such as prayer, worship, religious instruction, or proselytization”, but a June 2006 report from the General Accounting Office (GAO) says that no one’s really watching to see if the groups are complying with this law:
“While there weren’t any surprises, and it was blandly worded, nevertheless the GAO report was quite an indictment of President Bush’s faith-based initiative,” Annie Laurie Gaylor, the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, told Media Transparency in a telephone interview. “After two readings, I couldn’t find any summary of what they thought the safeguards should be. It left me wondering whether the administration has any safeguards in place.
“It also left me questioning how the government was monitoring the grants they’ve given,” Gaylor said. “After all, there is no indication in the report that anyone is doing site visits and following up on the grants.”
“While I hope it will motivate changes by the administration, I don’t think the report with fundamentally change the Bush Administration’s approach,” said Gaylor, whose organization has been one of several in the forefront of challenging the initiative in the courts. “It is difficult to imagine the faith-based initiative being challenged if so many Democrats support it in one way or another.”
“I hope other members of Congress, in addition to Rep. Stark and Rep. Miller, wake up and realize that the several billion dollars given to religious organizations is going down the drain, while at the same time, the wall of separation between church and state is being eroded.”
As that article at Media Transparency points out, though, the OFBCI isn’t going away anytime soon:
Despite the GAO’s critical report and recent court rulings against religious groups misusing government funds, the president’s faith based initiative is here to stay, at least in the short term. And while there has been not yet been congressional action on a comprehensive faith based bill, riders exempting religious organizations from civil rights laws have been tucked into several bills. Meanwhile, there have been congressional moves to fully institutionalize the White House Office on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Consider the faith based initiative a permanent part of the political landscape.
The best critics can hope for is that strict standards regarding the use of government money by religious organizations is adhered to, an effective monitoring system – including audits and on-site visits – is established, and that watchdog groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Americans United for Separation of Church and State continue to keep their eyes on discriminatory practices by religious organizations.
All of this just makes me glad I decided to make Americans United for Separation of Church and State my choice during the recent Blogathon.