A Bridge Too Far: Mich. Gov. Connects With 'Faith-Based' Groups

Michigan's Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm has joined a growing number of politicians seemingly seeking to use the Bush' administration's so-called "faith-based" initiative to curry favor with those so-called "values voters."

In a speech laced with Bible references, Granholm told a state-organized gathering of religious groups and leaders that her administration would open a "faith-based" initiatives office to funnel public dollars to religious groups that try to offer social services to the state's neediest people, the Detroit Free Press reported today.

The Bible teaches us to "protect the vulnerable, the least among us" and helping the impoverished should be a top governmental priority, Granholm told the audience of about 1,000 at the Lansing Center. Granholm said the office would help the administration "expand the work of community and faith-based" organizations.

"It's a bridge that will physically connect the faith community and state government," Granholm told the gathering.

In building her new "bridge," the governor apparently forgot about that other constitutional structure – the wall of separation between church and state. Both the U.S. and Michigan constitutions provide for a healthy division between government and religion. The state constitution's Article I, sec. 4, states: "No money shall be appropriated or drawn from the treasury for the benefit of any religious sect or society, theological or religious seminary; nor shall property belonging to the state be appropriated for any such purpose."

The governor tried to stanch any criticism of her actions, arguing that she could not "imagine people criticizing an effort to try to recruit mentors for children who may have no parents. I can't imagine any organization criticizing an effort to reduce the cost of health care for senior citizens."

Granholm's imagination was at best crabbed. Perhaps her creative juices were running low.

There are plenty of groups that have and will criticize government actions that are unconstitutional, regardless of the rhetoric used to promote them. Children and senior citizens can be helped by their government without sacrificing vital constitutional protections. Unless "faith-based" initiatives are carefully crafted with effective legal safeguards, they violate the separation of church and state by funneling tax dollars to religious groups to help further their missionary work.

In addition, they violate federal and state civil rights laws by allowing publicly funded religious groups to discriminate in hiring. One the most contentious aspects of the "faith-based" initiative is its language allowing religious groups to hire and fire based on an employee's religious beliefs. It is long-established policy that government does not fund programs that are run by people who discriminate in hiring. Bush and his allies in Congress are working to kill that policy.

But Granholm, like a few other Democrats, has apparently been swayed by the media-hyped conventional wisdom that Democrats must start kissing up to "moral values voters" if they hope to regain any power in Washington and for that matter many state governments.

The "faith-based" initiative appears to be the ticket, especially if used in the way the Bush administration has been employing it, which appears to be solely for political purposes. Bush loudly trumpets religious groups' work to help the needy, but slashes funding for domestic programs that help alleviate poverty. In a recent Beliefnet article, David Kuo, the former deputy director of the White House's office of faith-based initiatives, criticized the administration for being all talk and no action on social service programs.

"No administration since LBJ's has had a more successful legislative track record than this one," wrote Kuo. "From tax cuts to Medicare, the White House gets what the White House wants. It never really wanted the 'poor people stuff.'"

Granholm unctuously told the religious gathering that government merely funds programs and creates policy while "you in the faith community, you touch souls. And usually your touch is so much more effective because it is personal, it is more lasting, in fact, eternal."

"Touching souls" is indeed the business of the faith community, not politicians. Gov. Granholm should repent of her intrusion into that sacred precinct.