Bush Administration Reverses Course On Faith-based 'set-aside'

Health And Human Services Dept. Caves To AU Demand On 'Religious Quota' Controversy

Claims that "faith-based" drug and alcohol recovery programs are more effective than their secular counterparts are not supported by empirical research data, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, noted that one of the arguments frequently made by supporters of President George W. Bush's "faith-based initiative" is that religious groups are more effective than secular or government programs in helping alcoholics and drug addicts become sober.

Lynn said there is no data to back up this assertion and called on supporters of the faith-based initiative to either produce solid evidence or stop making the claim.

"Wide-reaching changes in public policy should be made on the basis of sound research, not anecdotes," Lynn said. "People struggling with substance abuse problems need more than an invitation to go to church."

Added Lynn, "Religion is important in American life, but that doesn't mean the government should get into the business of paying for it."

The House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources is holding a hearing today to listen to testimony on "faith-based" drug and alcohol programs. Lynn noted that the following facts should be of interest to the subcommittee:

* Teen Challenge, a fundamentalist Christian drug and alcohol recovery program, frequently claims a success rate of 80 percent or higher. But Lynn noted that this figure includes only those participants who don't drop out of the program before completion. According to an April 9 report in The American Prospect, only 18 percent of addicts who begin Teen Challenge's program complete it.

* A 1998 General Accounting Office report found that no research proves that faith-based groups are more effective than others. The GAO said research on the effectiveness of faith-based groups is "extremely limited," and "there has not been sufficient research to determine the results of this type of treatment." The report also noted that many conventional recovery programs have success rates of 40-50 percent and cost less than Teen Challenge. (Ironically, the report was commissioned by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and current Speaker Dennis Hastert, who believed it would bolster their claims that "faith-based" programs are more effective.)

* Byron R. Johnson, a criminologist at the University of Pennsylvania, told The New York Times April 24 that no empirical evidence shows that "faith-based" programs work better than secular ones. "From the left to the right, everyone assumes that faith-based programs work...," Johnson said. "We hear that and just sit back and laugh. In terms of empirical evidence that they work, it's pretty much non-existent."

* The same Times article reported that a study undertaken by David Reingold at Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs found that religious groups in Indiana were much more likely than secular providers to limit the clientele they serve. Remarked Reingold, "It's an extreme exaggeration to say that religious organizations are more effective."

Teen Challenge has also been criticized because religious conversion is at the core of its program. Regardless of its effectiveness, critics say the government should not be in the business of paying for conversion programs.

Lynn noted that Bush administration officials can't seem to make up their minds about whether Teen Challenge should qualify for government funding. On Feb. 26, John J. DiIulio Jr., head of the White Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, told the Jewish Public Affairs Council that groups like Teen Challenge would not get public money because "Bible-thumping doesn't cut it" in the delivery of social services. Under fire from the Religious Right, DiIulio quickly backed away from the statement and has since said Teen Challenge could apply for funding.

AU's Lynn concluded, "The Bush administration is attempting to sell the American people a bill of goods. It's bad enough that the 'faith-based initiative' violates core constitutional principles, and now we know that objective research does not support the claims of many of its backers. It's time to drop this truly bad idea."

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members 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.