Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Warning to States on Funding Faith-Based Charities

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Warning to States on Funding Faith-Based Charities

Article excerpt

As George W. Bush heads into year two of his presidency, one question mark is whether "compassionate conservatism" - a cornerstone of his campaign and early months in office - will hold its own against the war on terrorism and the bid for economic recovery.

The centerpiece of compassionate conservatism is the "faith- based initiative" for social services. Mr. Bush wanted to engage religious groups more fully in solving social problems - and to do so by allowing them to receive federal funds without having to create a separate entity

for that purpose to satisfy the demands of separation of church and state. This "charitable choice" feature first appeared in the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, but Bush would extend it across a range of federal programs.

Despite his vigorous use of the bully pulpit, the initiative went nowhere in 2001. Americans applauded the concept, but tripped over the details. A brouhaha erupted over the potential for tax dollars to support religious teaching, or

for the government to intrude on religious institutions. Critics also worried that some faiths would be favored, and that there would be discrimination in hiring if groups could choose just those of their own faith. A bill passed the House but proposals stalled in the Senate.

Now, as the White House and Congress draw up plans for 2002, a federal court has issued a decision challenging the constitutionality of public funding of programs that have a religious aspect.

Last week, a federal judge in Wisconsin ruled that giving direct state funding to Faith Works, a drug- and alcohol-addiction program that relies on Christian teaching, amounted to government support for religious indoctrination. Faith Works, which Bush visited and lauded, has received close to $1 million from the state, mostly under the governorship of Tommy Thompson, who is now US secretary of health and human services.

"This is the sort of 'ideal program' that's been touted by the White House," says Marc Stern, a lawyer for American Jewish Congress who is working on other similar cases. "So the decision is very significant." Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, calls it "a major blow to the president's faith- based initiative. …

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