New Pew Poll Shows Americans Oppose Religious Discrimination With Public Funds

Results Find Public Has Serious Reservations About Bush 'Faith-Based' Initiative, Says Americans United

A broad coalition of religious, education, labor, civil liberties and health advocacy groups today urged the U.S. House to reject a bill that directs tax aid to houses of worship to provide social services.

Two dozen groups representing millions of Americans said the "charitable choice" provisions of the Watts-Hall "Community Solutions Act" (H.R. 7) must be rejected. The provisions, which reflect the Bush administration's "faith-based" initiative, allow religious groups to get government funds without the church-state safeguards that have been in effect in the past.

In a letter to House members, the groups said, "'Charitable choice' is an unconstitutional and dangerous proposal that will harm religion, authorize government-funded discrimination, undermine the accountability of taxpayer dollars, foster litigation against state and local governments and violate the personal rights of Americans seeking help."

Among the groups signing the letter is Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the group spearheading opposition to the Bush initiative.

"Opposition to Bush's faith-based fiasco is building steadily," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "Until the plan is brought into line with the Constitution, Congress has a responsibility to reject it."

In addition to Americans United, other groups signing the letter include: American Association of School Administrators, American Association of University Women, American Federation of Teachers, American Humanist Association, American Jewish Committee, Americans for Religious Liberty, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, Catholics for a Free Choice, Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers), Hadassah, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, National Association of Social Workers, National Council of Jewish Women, National Education Association, NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, OMB Watch, People for the American Way, Service Employees International Union, The Interfaith Alliance, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Unitarian Universalist Association and Women of Reform Judaism.

The organizations have joined forces under the umbrella of the "Coalition Against Religious Discrimination" to fight the Bush scheme.

The Coalition's stance has broad public support. A poll released yesterday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life showed that 68 percent of Americans worry that faith-based programs might lead to too much government involvement with religion, while six out of ten are concerned that publicly funded religious groups would proselytize recipients of social services. An overwhelming 78 percent of Americans say government-funded religious groups should not be able to hire only people who share their beliefs to staff programs, a key component of the Bush plan.

The Coalition notes that religiously affiliated groups have received government funds to provide social services in the past, but strict church-state safeguards were in place. The Coalition asserts that these protections should not be dropped, as the Bush administration proposes.

In its letter to the House, the Coalition observed, "For decades, there has been an effective relationship between government and religiously affiliated institutions for the provision of community-based social services.... These organizations, such as Catholic Charities, Lutheran Services, United Jewish Communities and numerous others, separate religious activities from their social services offerings, follow all civil rights laws, follow all state and local rules and standards and do not discriminate in staffing. There is no reason to remove these effective safeguards."

Said the Coalition, "'Charitable Choice' is a frontal assault on the First Amendment and religious liberty, and was wisely left out of the Senate companion bill, S. 592. Until the dangerous 'Charitable Choice' provisions are removed from H.R. 7, we ask you to oppose the Watts-Hall bill."

Americans United is a Washington, D.C.-based church-state watchdog group. The organization has some 60,000 members as well as 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.