President George W. Bush's administration has engaged in secret negotiations with the Salvation Army over the controversial faith-based initiative, which will give the religious group broad discretion to discriminate against gays with public tax dollars.
According to a report in today's Washington Post, the Salvation Army is offering political support for the beleaguered initiative in exchange for regulatory assistance, exempting the group from state and local laws that prohibit discrimination against gays in employment.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the nation's leading opponent of the faith-based initiative, said surreptitious White House deals with religious denominations are terribly inappropriate.
"These secret back room negotiations between the Salvation Army and the White House are shameful," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "It further demonstrates how proponents of the faith-based initiative will go to any lengths to ram this scheme into law.
"It's amazing what some groups will do for 30 pieces of silver," continued Lynn. "Before dropping money in the Salvation Army's kettles next Christmas, I'll be wondering whether my donation will be paying for a slick lobbying campaign or soup."
The Post obtained a document from the Salvation Army that details the group's political deal-making over the Bush faith-based initiative. In exchange for a "firm commitment" from the White House for greater freedom in discrimination against gays in employment, the religious group has promised to use its influence to garner support for the plan.
To that end, the Salvation Army has said it will spend in upwards of $110,000 per month in lobbying on behalf of the faith-based initiative.
The Salvation Army seemed eager to work with the White House in secret, as evidenced by the document's urging that efforts be made to "minimize the possibility of any 'leak' to the media."
Adding to the clandestine nature of the negotiations, the Post report noted that administration officials promised the Salvation Army that the group would be allowed to discriminate through changes made in federal regulations, instead of legislation. That route was preferable to the White House, since it would generate less attention.
The controversy further exhibits the critical question of employment discrimination in the White House faith-based initiative, and its legislative counterpart, the "Community Solutions Act" (H.R. 7). That proposal, introduced by Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), has come under fire for giving religious groups broad authority to engage in employment discrimination on the basis of religious teachings, even when the job is funded by tax dollars.
"I can't tell which is worse," Lynn concluded, "the White House's steadfast commitment to supporting discrimination, or the fact that the administration is trying to secretly negotiate with a religious denomination. Have they ever heard of the separation of church and state?"
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization represents members, chapters and allied houses of worship in all 50 states.
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.