President George Bush's "faith-based" initiative rolls back vital civil rights protections, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Bush touted the plan Jan. 15 in New Orleans during a visit to Union Bethel AME Church, a predominantly African-American congregation.
Bush talked openly about the need to promote religion with government support, telling the crowd, " Problems that face our society are oftentimes problems that, you know, require something greater than just a government program or a government counselor to solve. Intractable problems, problems that seem impossible to solve, can be solved. There is the miracle of salvation that is real, that is tangible, that is available for all to see."
Continued Bush, "Miracles are possible in our society, one person at a time, but it requires a willingness to understand the origin of miracle. Miracles happen as a result of the love of the Almighty -- professed, by the way, taught, by the way, by religion from all walks of life, whether it be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu; people who've heard that universal call to love a neighbor just like you'd like to be loved yourself, and then surround someone who hurts with love."
At another point, Bush brandished a Bible, calling it "the handbook" for faith-based organizations.
Americans United, which has spearheaded opposition to the Bush plan, said the president is misleading the public about its true character.
"For years, the government has worked with religious groups to provide social services," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "But religious groups were required to play by the same rules that secular agencies followed.
"President Bush wants to give religious groups special treatment," Lynn continued. "He clearly has no understanding of the separation of church and state. The government has no business funding salvation and religious conversion. That's the job of our houses of worship."
Continued Lynn, "Under the president's plan, churches would be allowed to discriminate in hiring with public funds. That's taxpayer-subsidized job discrimination. This initiative would roll back nondiscrimination rules dating back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration."
Lynn, noting that later the day Bush traveled to Atlanta to place a wreath on the grave of Martin Luther King, commented, "It is hypocritical of President Bush to lay a wreath at the grave of Dr. King on the same day he is pushing a plan to roll back vital civil rights protections. This is disgraceful.
"Our Constitution forbids government-funded religion," Lynn concluded. "President Bush is trying to overturn two centuries of church-state separation."
The Bush initiative is stalled in Congress because of constitutional and civil rights concerns. Meanwhile, however, the administration has pushed for implementation through executive orders. Most religious and civil rights groups continue to oppose the president's plan.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.