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Items in the news: 1988 to 2001-FEB

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Items in the news:

bullet1988: U.S. Supreme Court decision - Bowen v. Kendrick: The court decided that a federal law, the Adolescent Family Life Act is constitutional. That law funded charitable and religious organizations that run counseling programs for pregnant teenagers and their parents. The court decided that the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does not prevent religious organization from engaging in government-funded programs which are aimed at promoting social welfare goals. However government funding of a program by a "pervasively sectarian" organization  in a way that advanced a religious mission would be unconstitutional. 1 Presumably, this would imply that an alcoholic treatment program that urge that the clients be "saved" would be unconstitutional. Similarly, a reparative therapy program which attempts to change homosexuals into heterosexuals and which that stressed prayer and Bible quotations condemning homosexuality would be unconstitutional. Similar programs by religious groups using a secular counseling would be acceptable.

1996: House: Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996: This was Bill H.R. 3734. Section 104 allows states to enter into contracts with charitable, religious or private organizations to deliver services under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Act (TANF), Supplementary Security Income (SSI), food stamps and Medicaid programs. 2


1996: Texas task force: Governor Bush (R-TX) created a Faith-Based Task Force in 1996-MAY. Its goal was to identify obstacles to government funding of religious groups, and to recommend how to implement such funding without excessive regulations. Many of the Task Force's recommendations were signed into Texas law by mid 1997.


1998: Senate: Charitable Choice Expansion ActSenator John Ashcroft, (R-MO) introduced a version of this act in 1998, but never made it to the floor of the Senate. It would have greatly expanded the range of programs for which churches could obtain with government funding. 


1998: House: American Community Renewal Act:  Representatives J.C. Watts, (R-OK), and James Talent, (R-MO) introduced the American Community Renewal Act in 1998-MAY. It would amend the Internal Revenue Code to include tax breaks, regulatory schemes and federal grants for religious organizations to "stimulate the creation of new jobs, particularly for disadvantaged workers and long-term unemployed individuals, and to promote revitalization of economically distressed areas..." Robert Woodson, president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, said: "Faith-based institutions have demonstrated that they can transform the attitudes, values and behaviors of some of the most alienated and self-destructive people in our society, where conventional programs have failed. Therefore, even if one does not embrace religiosity, one can respect, appreciate and embrace the secular consequences of what they do. Supporting faith-based intervention can be justified on strategic, secular, practical political grounds because it works, and at much lower costs. Government should not be hostile to faith-based programs.1


1999: Senate: Charitable Choice Expansion Act: Senator John Ashcroft, (R-MO)  re-introduced the Charitable Choice Expansion Act of 1999 (S1113) on 1999 MAY-25. It said in part: "Neither the Federal Government nor a State or local government shall require a religious organization to alter its form of internal governance; or to remove religious art, icons, scripture, or other symbols; in order to be eligible to provide assistance under a program.

Senator Ashcroft said: "We have known for years that government solutions have failed miserably in moving people from dependency and despair to responsibility and independence. For years America's churches and charities have been leading the way in helping the poor achieve dignity and self-sufficiency. This is why I have been advocating that government should find ways to help these organizations unleash the cultural remedy our society so desperately needs."


Carole Shields, president of People for the American Way wrote: "What you are proposing is a constitutional lose-lose situation... This proposal will go wrong either way - either it will undermine the Constitution by supporting the practice of religion or it will undermine the churches' freedom by imposing limitations on religious expression.


Elliot Mincberg, executive vice president and legal direct or of PFAW stated: "Inevitably you run into a dilemma you either have laws with absolutely no accountability, or regulations of churches or congressional regulation and control that will interfere with religious missions and programs. Charitable choice distracts from better ways of providing support to religious groups' involvement in social service programs, such as tax proposals that provide incentives for all nonprofit groups to run such programs."

bulletJoseph Conn, communications director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State stated: "We are concerned that the needy persons will find themselves in an extremely religious environment in order to receive social services. I think in the long run religious institutions would regret taking the public funds because of the government intrusion that ultimately follows the money." Referring to the freedom of churches to receive public money, and then discriminate against parts of the public in their hiring policies, he stated: "We believe public funds should never be used to support discrimination...This bill raises all kinds of delicate church- and-state issues." 2

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Activity - year 2000


2000: Presidential campaigns: Both the Democratic and Republican candidates for president in 2001 to 2004, George W. Bush and Al Gore, supported charitable-choice initiatives during their election campaigns. For Gore, this was a major departure from the historical Democratic Party position. George W Bush proposed an Office of Faith-Based Action to promote charitable choice. Gore's support is conditional on the clients are not forced into religious readings or prayers, and on there being an alternative secular program available in the community.


2000: House bill: Homeownership and Economic Development Act: As mentioned above, Representative Mark Souder (R-IN) introduced a charitable choice amendment to House bill The Homeownership and Economic Development Act of 2000. He said that the Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD] already has allowed religious groups to use federal funds to provide social services. His amendment would simply codify the practice. It would require the religious institution to provide services for all. Charitable Choice "would allow a Catholic priest to have his collar on if it is at a Catholic facility [and] would not require them to remove icons." The amendment was passed on 2000-APR-7. 3

At a panel which discussed church-state issues, Jimmy Allen, a Baptist preacher and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention expressed a concern that churches would give up their independence by accepting government funds. He said that religious groups should "create a climate of concern" about social problems that would force politicians to act.


The Rev. James Thomas, of the Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville TN said that charitable choice is not the answer to racism, poverty and other social problems: "It would not work. I don't trust the government in our church. The black church must be free to speak. The government did nothing for the black church during the civil rights movement and today they want to give us money and shut our mouths."


Edward Dobson pastor of Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, MI, said charitable choice "sounds good [but] when on the dance floor, the government looks like an octopus." 4


2000-NOV: USA: Lawsuits against charitable choice programs: By early November, there were at least three active lawsuits in progress:

Kentucky: Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children fired counselor Alicia Pedreira in 1998 because of her sexual orientation.


Texas: A state welfare-to-work program is alleged to include Bible-based lectures.


Wisconsin: The lawsuit involves Faith Works, a Milwaukee program that helps fathers with drug treatment and job training.

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Activity - year 2001:


2001-JAN-29: Washington DC: President Bush unveiled charitable choice program: According to Evangelical Press News Service: President Bush issued a proposal to make up to 24 billion dollars in federal funding over the next ten years. He also:

Created a White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives


Appointed John J. Dilulio Jr., a political science professor from the University of Pennsylvania to administer the office.


Instructed five Cabinet-level agencies to interface with religious organizations and to eliminate barriers "that make private groups hesitant to work with government."

The plan is to enlarge the scope of charitable choice. It is currently limited to a few programs in the Department of Health and Human Services. President Bush's plan "would expand the provision to allow religious charities to compete for more than 100 programs in the departments of labor (job training, for example), justice (community policing), education (after-school programs) and housing and urban development." 5

President Bush said: "Compassion is the work of a nation, not just a government. Government will never be replaced by charities and community groups. Yet when we see social needs in America, my administration will look first to faith-based programs. We will not discriminate against them."

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State commented: "George Bush does not understand the nature of either the church or the Constitution." He further said that Bush's proposal violates the "essential spirit" of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. He said that the plan is a "vast payback to the religious right for help in [his] election."

Jay Sekulow, spokesperson for the American Center for Law and Justice, said that President Bush's plan doesn't violate the constitutional separation of church and state. "This is a creative and constitutionally sound approach that should be embraced, not shunned. It is clear the president's plan recognizes the power of faith in our lives -- it does not endorse a particular faith or religion. Providing federal funding to faith-based groups can be done in a way that will not trigger a constitutional problem."

The American Jewish Congress expressed concern that while "funding religious agencies to provide public services as long as the actual programs themselves remain secular in nature may be appropriate and useful, it is quite another thing when religious teaching itself becomes the heart of the program and is the means whereby those services are provided." 6

bullet2001-FEB-20: Washington DC: White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives opens: According to the New York Times: 7
The Office opens on FEB-20. There have been some interesting developments concerning the range of faith groups that will be acceptable for funding:
bulletWhen President Bush signed the executive order which established the Office he was flanked by an multi-faith group of religious leaders. But all were from Abrahamic faiths: about 20 Christians, two Jews, and one Muslim. There were no small minority faiths represented: Buddhism, Hinduism, Native American spirituality, Taoism, Wicca and other Neopagan religions, etc.
bulletThe president says religious programs will be judged not on their beliefs but on the results of their work. At a prayer breakfast on FEB-1, he said "We do not impose any religion. We welcome all religion."
bulletThe Church of Scientology, Unification Church and International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishnas) are known to be preparing proposals.
bulletPhilip Jenkins, the author of "Mystics and Messiah," commented: "Running a faith-based program raises the question, what faiths are out of bounds? Either you fund all faith groups, even groups you radically don't like, or you fund none. I have nothing against funding everybody, but I think people need to be prepared for the issues that might arise. How do you distinguish between a Methodist and a Moonie? The answer is, you can't."
bulletAccording to the New York Times article, the Anti-Defamation League (a major Jewish anti-hate organization) has been lobbying to assure that the Nation of Islam will be excluded from any charitable-choice program.
bullet2001-FEB-20: Virginia: Pat Robinson attacks charitable choice: According to the Washington Post: On his 700 Club television program, Pat Robertson, head of the Christian Coalition, criticized the faith-based initiative of President Bush. He expressed concern that the Hare Krishnas, Church of Scientology, and Unification Church "could all become financial beneficiaries of the proposal to expand eligibility for government grants to religious charities...This thing could be a real Pandora's box. And what seems to be such a great initiative can rise up to bite the organizations as well as the federal government." [Pat seems to have left out New Agers, Satanists, Wiccans, and many other religious minorities]. In response to Pat Robertson's comment, Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said: "This means Bush's plan is in enormous political trouble. When staunch Bush allies like Robertson start jumping ship, the plan clearly appears to be sinking." 8
bullet2001-FEB-20: USA: Two Pagan groups attack Faith Based Initiative:
Rev. Rona J. Coomer-Russell, Coordinator of the Association of Pagan Congregations and Independent Clergy and Jerrie K. Hildebrand, Director of PR & Media of Alternative Religions Education Network (AREN) issued the following press release:

"As a result of discussion among activists and religious leaders in the Wiccan, Pagan and earth religious communities, an open statement to government officials regarding President Bush's Office of Faith Based Action and Community Initiatives has been sent. The statement was written in collaboration with earth religious leaders about the concerns faced by members of Wiccan, Pagan and earth religious faith groups and the President's initiatives. The statement outlines the fears concerning discrimination, harassment and defamation for groups who may wish to apply for the program and program participants." 

"The office calls for more government funds to be opened up to religious charities and churches. This move concerns not only Wiccan, Pagan and earth religious faith groups, but many other religious groups as well.  Some Jewish and Baptist organizations are opposed to it, suggesting that the government funds may taint their religious programs and create additional bureaucracy."

"The Pagan community, which includes Wiccans, Druids and a wide variety of earth religious faith groups feels that it has a lot more to fear. The Wiccan community has often been brought up by government officials and the media as a challenge to the program.  Many deem Wicca as a substandard religion without giving clarifying reasons for why it would not qualify in the program. Like many other faith groups, earth religious traditions have food pantries, prison ministries, and substance abuse programs in their communities. They are also committed to service in the area of social action in current secular and faith based organizations." 

"Stephen Goldsmith, the Domestic Policy Advisor to the President spoke ill of Wicca during an interview on Mc Laughlin's One on One. He said that he did not 'think that Wiccans would meet the standard of being humane providers of domestic violence shelters'.

"In dialogue between CNN's Bill Press and Tucker Carlson on the show Spin Room, Wicca was heavily debated.  Topics included Wiccan hospitals, chicken sacrificing and how the government would not give funds to Wiccans. Indiana Representative Souder stated on the House floor in April of 2000 stated that "it is unlikely under President Bush that the witches would get funding.

"With such comments abounding, it is no wonder that many in the earth religious faith traditions fear unequal treatment.

"The first edition of the letter will be in governmental boxes by the third week of February.9 

The letter can be seen at AREN's web site at http://aren.org. They are collecting signatures. And, by the way, CNN news reporters are misinformed. Wiccans and other Pagans do not sacrifice chickens. They may have confused Pagans with Santerians. Santeria is a syncretistic religion which is a blend of Roman Catholicism and West African Native religion.

bullet2001-FEB-24: USA: American Atheists to petition President Bush: American Atheists plan to submit the following petition at the White House: 

"Millions of American citizens who are Atheists, rationalists, agnostics or otherwise have concerns for the importance of the First Amendment separation of church and state, oppose your Executive Orders creating a special White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives which seeks to fund and assist the faith-based programs administered by religious groups."

     "The initiative threatens that First Amendment separation by entangling government and religion. It turns the "armies of compassion" into publicly funded "armies of conversion," and imposes a Religion Tax on the American people."

     "A cornerstone of the American Revolution was disestablishment, which ended tax funding of religious denominations. This initiative threatens that important principle."

     "As President of all the people, you must acknowledge the rights of all Americans who seek their freedom from religion. No person should be compelled to worship, to believe in a specific religious creed, or financially support through any program or scheme, any church, mosque, temple or faith-based outreach.
" 10

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Continue reading about events after 2001-FEB-24

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  1. Jeremy Leaming, "Lawmakers offer bill encouraging social service work by churches," First Amendment Center, 1998-MAY-12, at: http://www.freedomforum.org/religion/1998/
  2. "Charitable Choice, faith-based & community-based services," Texas Workforce, at: http://www.twc.state.tx.us/svcs/charchoice/chchoice.html 
  3. Jeremy Leaming, "House passes bill with charitable-choice provision," First Amendment Center, 2000-APR-10, at: http://www.freedomforum.org/news/2000/
  4. Jeremy Leaming, "Christian commentators discuss religion's role in politics," Freedom Forum Online, at: http://www.freedomforum.org/news/2000/
  5. Dana Milbank & Thomas B. Edsall, "Faith initiative may be revised," The Washington Post, 2001-MAR-11.
  6. "Bush unveils plan to back faith-based initiatives," Maranatha Christian Journal, at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/01a/20010202a.shtml
  7. Laurie Goodstein, "Bush's call to church groups to get untraditional replies," New York Times, 2001-FEB-20, at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2001/02/20/politics
  8. Thomas Edsall, "Robertson Joins Liberals in Faulting Bush's 'Faith-Based' Plan," Washington Post, 2001-FEB-22, Page A05
  9. AREN's web site is at: http://aren.org
  10. The American Atheists' web site is at http://www.atheists.org/

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Copyright 2000 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-DEC-23
Latest update: 2005-NOV-05
Author: B.A. Robinson

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