'see You At The Pole' Events Are Legal If Schools Remain Neutral, Says Americans United

AU's Lynn Reminds Parents That Observances Are Often Evangelistic, Not Ecumenical

A renewed White House push to secure Senate passage of "charitable choice" funding for churches would be "deeply divisive," Americans United for Separation of Church and State has warned.

The Washington Post reported today that Bush administration officials are considering an aggressive drive on behalf of the "faith-based initiative," a package of proposals that would subsidize churches and other ministries that operate social services.

According to the newspaper, some Bush advisors want to push for provisions of the initiative that have broad bipartisan support, such as a tax break measure that gives taxpayers new incentives to donate to religious and other charities.

Other advisors think the president should press for the full "faith-based" package, which includes highly controversial direct funding of churches (the so-called "charitable choice" provision). They are apparently convinced that the president's soaring popularity in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will help pass the problem-plagued initiative.

Such a move would be a serious mistake, said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, the group that has led opposition to the Bush plan.

"Americans are united at this time of national crisis," said Lynn, "but that does not mean they are prepared to rubber stamp every item on the president's domestic agenda. Direct federal funding of churches violates our basic constitutional principles, and it must not become law."

Continued Lynn, "The 'charitable choice' provision of the faith-based initiative remains highly controversial. It would be wrong for the president to press forward on a deeply divisive issue at a time when national unity is crucial."

The Community Solutions Act (H.R. 7) -- a measure enacting the full Bush initiative -- has already passed the House of Representatives. It has bogged down in the Senate over concerns that the initiative violates the First Amendment by directing tax aid to religion. The initiative also undercuts civil rights laws by allowing religiously based employment discrimination with tax dollars, pits houses of worship against each other in a bid for federal funding and could subject needy Americans to unwanted proselytism.

"Interfaith peace is especially important in these difficult times," said AU's Lynn. "Under the president's plan, a fundamentalist Christian charity could run a federally funded social service program and hang out a sign saying, 'No Catholics, Jews, non-believers or Muslims need apply for work here.' That's completely unacceptable, particularly in a time when we are trying to bring all Americans together.

"The faith-based initiative remains deeply flawed," Lynn said. "At this difficult time in American life, we would do better to honor our fundamental principles, like the separation of church and state, not undercut them."

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.

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.