President George W. Bush has chosen the wrong church to promote his "faith-based" initiative, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Bush is scheduled to appear today at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, a large congregation in Dallas, Texas. The occasion is the dedication of a $23-million education and recreation center at the church that will house Operation Turnaround, a program that offers job training, job placement, literacy classes and other social services.
Church officials, however, say the program takes no federal funds. La Fayette Holland, the project's executive director, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that the church would have to carefully examine the effect of accepting public money because faith is a component of the program.
"If it will prohibit anything we are doing," Holland said, "we would have to turn it down."
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, said the situation is a reminder that many religious groups are rightly wary of taking public funds.
"President Bush picked the wrong church for a photo op," said Lynn. "This congregation doesn't want government interference in their religious work, so they've chosen not to apply for public funds.
"Bush's faith-based initiative would inevitably entangle government with religion," Lynn continued. "That's one reason that a broad cross-section of clergy have refused to support this initiative."
Lynn noted that religious groups are also concerned about the Bush initiative's support for hiring discrimination by publicly funded religious social service programs. Religiously affiliated groups could take federal funds and then discriminate on religious grounds in hiring staff for the taxpayer-supported programs.
"The Bush plan would roll back our nation's progress on civil rights," said Lynn. "That's why the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Congressional Black Caucus and other major civil rights groups are opposing it."
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.