President George W. Bush's plan to funnel billions in tax money to churches and other religious organizations to fund "faith-based" social services appears to be in increasingly deep political trouble.
The Washington Post reported today that the Bush administration "will delay action on parts of its plan to channel more government money to religious charities until it can quiet some of the surprisingly vehement opposition to the program."
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the leading national opponent of the measure, says the strong resistance to the plan from across the religious and political spectrum proves that the American people do not want entanglement between religion and government.
"This plan is sinking faster than the XFL," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "People are abandoning the 'faith-based' initiative in droves because they don't want government-funded religion.
"If Americans keep up the pressure on the White House, the president will be forced to withdraw this initiative," Lynn continued. "Most Americans have a positive view of religion, but they also value the separation of church and state. They rightly see Bush's plan as an assault on an important constitutional principle."
In recent weeks, numerous religious groups from all points on the theological and political spectrum have expressed opposition or concerns about the Bush proposal. Surprisingly, some of the strongest opposition to the plan is coming from Religious Right groups that enthusiastically backed Bush in the 2000 elections. Lynn said the Religious Right leaders are right to be concerned.
"Even Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell realize that this initiative is fraught with problems," Lynn added. "Under Bush's plan, people will be forced to pay taxes for religious groups they don't agree with or may even dislike, and government will be entangled with religion in the process."
Last week John DiIulio, head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships, lashed out at Religious Right critics of the plan, asserting that they are out of touch with the needs of the inner-city poor.
At the same time, the plan has been hamstrung by complaints that it will lead to government funding of religious discrimination and that it could funnel tax money to controversial religious organizations.
DiIulio and other members of the Bush administration have pledged to slow down while they retool their approach. Lynn said he remains skeptical.
"Government-funded religion is a bad idea whose time should never have come," said Lynn. "There's just no way to perfume this skunk. Instead, the administration should toss it on the scrap heap, shut down the 'faith-based' initiative and go back to basics. Let houses of worship and religious charities be funded by the voluntary generosity of millions of Americans."
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.