A majority of Americans have deep reservations about President George W. Bush's "faith-based" initiative, a new opinion poll shows.
According to a survey released today by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 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.
The majority of respondents support government funding for faith-based organizations in general, but 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 their programs, a key component of the Bush plan.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which has spearheaded opposition to the Bush plan, said the survey clearly shows that the American people reject the White House proposal.
"Americans don't mind religious social services getting some government aid, as long as there are strict safeguards in place," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "President Bush wants to do away with the safeguards, and people have no intention of saying amen.
"The Bush plan allows religious discrimination with public funds; Americans overwhelmingly say no," Lynn continued. "The Bush plan allows providers to proselytize needy people; Americans say no. Clearly, people don't have much faith in the Bush approach."
Religiously affiliated groups such as Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services have received government funding for years, said Lynn, but those agencies do not discriminate in hiring or proselytize aid recipients. Under the Bush proposal, government aid would go directly to churches, and they would be allow to engage in preferential hiring and evangelize needy people while providing the tax-funded program.
In addition to the findings mentioned above, the poll also found that many Americans do not want government to fund religious minorities. Only 38 percent thought Muslim mosques should get aid, while the same number supported help for Buddhist temples. A bare majority -- 51 percent -- supported government aid for Mormon churches.
Said AU's Lynn, "The Bush proposal is stirring up unnecessary religious tensions. The Constitution mandates that government treat all religions equally. If majority faiths qualify for aid, minorities must be eligible as well. Yet people are worried that religious groups they don't like or don't understand will get their tax dollars. This scheme has disaster written all over it."
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.