`Faith-Based' Fraud: Duplicity and Deceit in the Name of Religion

Article excerpt

When President George W. Bush unveiled his "faith-based initiative" in January, he claimed there was a noble purpose behind the plan.

The program, he said, would muster "armies of compassion" to come to the aid of society's least fortunate -- the poor, the hungry, the homeless and those grappling with substance-abuse problems.

Yet ever since that day, the drive to pass the initiative has, it seems, become more important to the administration than the initiative's alleged noble goals. And in the process, the proposal has become entwined in the business-as-usual politics of Washington, D.C.

In July, The Washington Post reported that the White House had cut a deal with the Salvation Army: If the Army would issue a high-profile endorsement of the initiative, the administration would use the regulatory process to exempt the publicly funded religious organization from state and local anti-discrimination laws about hiring staff.

The administration and Salvation Army officials were quick to deny charges of a secret pact. But days later The Post reported that Karl Rove, Bush's top political adviser, had brokered the negotiations and even brought a team of Army officials to the White House to meet Bush personally.

In early August, word of another backroom deal surfaced. The evangelical magazine World reported that administration officials have quietly assured Religious Right leaders that they will be permitted to continue proselytizing while participating in the initiative.

This assurance came despite the fact that top administration officials had told Congress the exact opposite just days before, insisting that no proselytism would be allowed in connection with programs using public funds.

To reconcile these two claims, the administration resorted to the usual verbal dodges. Not to worry, White House operatives assured the Religious Right, Justice Department attorney Carl Esbeck "is a master at writing vague language" and has made sure the bill leaves the door sufficiently open to winning souls on the taxpayer's dime.

These activities are only the latest in a sad pattern that has emerged since the faith-based initiative was introduced: The Bush administration is apparently willing to promise anything, make any alliance or flout any constitutional provision to win passage of this measure. At times the relentless crusade to enact the faith-based initiative looks more like an effort to score political points than help poor families.

To be frank, the scheme has been marred by an unfortunate string of lies, duplicity and deceit from day one. The initiative claims to be about religion, but its backers have never hesitated to betray the very ethical principles religion holds at its core in an effort to enact the scheme.

This ought to deeply disturb all religious leaders. It clearly does bother some. …