The Bush administration has quietly assured conservative Christians that a voucher scheme and other loopholes in the "faith-based initiative" will allow religious groups to proselytize in publicly funded programs, an evangelical news magazine has reported.
According to the August 4 issue of World magazine, White House officials carefully manipulated press and congressional scrutiny to divert attention from provisions of the "faith-based" bill that would allow evangelism in government-subsidized social services run by churches.
The magazine article, written by Marvin Olasky (a former Bush adviser who coined the term "compassionate conservatism"), quotes a "TeamBush insider" as saying that "biblical and secular teaching could be interwoven [in publicly funded programs], 'as long as you do it right and keep separate books.'"
The sources told Olasky that Department of Justice senior counsel Carl Esbeck "is a master at writing vague language" and that the bill would permit proselytism, despite the appearance of tight restrictions against religious pressure.
According to World, "The executive said that a homeless shelter that had, say, a short sermon after dinner could still have it by offering those who came a choice between writing a paper after dinner or listening to the message."
The story also says the Bush administration sees a little-noticed voucher provision in the bill as broadly opening the door to evangelism with public funds. An "executive close to the White House" told the magazine that the fight over proselytism restrictions on direct grants is "all a show" to distract the attention of the news media and congressional critics.
Reported the magazine: "What's truly important in the legislation, he said, is a 'stealth provision' about vouchers: 'Let people argue over grants, but get the vouchers passed.'"
Americans United for Separation of Church and State charged the White House with "scandalous duplicity."
Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, "This is worse that the White House/Salvation Army deal. Bush administration officials are intentionally running a campaign of deception to get the 'faith-based' initiative through Congress. This is scandalous duplicity.
"If administration officials have to stoop to these kinds of tactics to get this scheme through," Lynn continued, "they have truly lost their moral and ethical compass. I hope moderate Senators will reject any such deals with the devil if they take up the faith-based proposal."
Americans United, a Washington, D.C.-based church-state watchdog group, has spearheaded opposition to the Bush "faith-based" initiative. 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.