A House bill that gives government funding to churches to provide social services would do lasting damage to both religion and government, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Today, U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) and other House members announced "faith-based" legislation that would give grants and contracts to churches to do social services, as part of a broader program to let religious groups solve social problems. The measure, known as the "Community Solutions Act" (H.R. 7), comports with President George W. Bush's "faith-based" initiative.
"This bill doesn't have a prayer," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "It undercuts the integrity of churches, subsidizes religious discrimination and subjects people in need to religious coercion.
"Religious leaders from right, left and center have spoken out against this 'faith-based' scheme," Lynn added. "As long as President Bush and his allies insist on government funding of religion, the plan is dead on arrival.
"This isn't an anti-poverty program," Lynn continued. "It is a political scam designed to lure low-income churches into support for the Bush administration at the cost of their institutional souls."
Lynn noted that the Senate also unveiled faith-based legislation today, but unlike the House bill, it emphasizes aspects of the Bush plan such as tax incentives. The Savings Opportunity and Charitable Giving Act, sponsored by Sens. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), does not include the most controversial provisions of the Bush initiative such as grants to religious groups.
Since Bush announced his "faith-based" initiative, religious leaders across the spectrum have raised concerns and objections. They note that the scheme will allow government regulation of churches, underwrite religious discrimination with taxpayer dollars and subsidize controversial religious groups.
AU's Lynn added that divisive parts of the initiative could tear the nation apart.
"This plan pits religious groups against one another as they compete for government grants," Lynn noted. "That's a recipe for bitter interfaith conflict."
Since Bush unveiled his initiative in January, interfaith hostilities have already erupted. The Anti-Defamation League, for example, has demanded that Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam not get funding. TV preacher Pat Robertson insists that no money go to the Hare Krishnas, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church and the Church of Scientology. The Rev. Jerry Falwell has said "Islam should be out the door before they knock."
Concluded AU's Lynn, "President Bush says he wants to be a uniter, not a divider. Yet this plan sows seeds of religious animosity that divide us along religious lines. This risky scheme should be withdrawn before more damage is done."
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.