Crying 'Anti-Church Bias':
All The 'Faith-Based' Move Has Left
Bob Cory

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Officials' Anti-Church Bias Alleged

Bush report decries faith-group hurdles
by John Aloysius Farrell
Globe Staff

WASHINGTON -- Despite attempts by Congress to encourage their participation, faith-based social service groups that seek federal funding are dissuaded by the anti-religious bias of too many government officials, a White House report asserted yesterday.

Federal employees harbor excessive, unjustified fears about breaking down the wall between church and state, the White House report said, and so may confront religious groups with a variety of difficult hurdles, some of which may violate the applicants' civil rights.

The White House report prepared as part of President Bush's drive to increase the participation of faith-based groups in the delivery of social services catalogued the steps that religious organizations have been forced to take in order to qualify for federal funds.

Some government rules require faith-based providers to endure something akin to an organizational strip search, the report contended.

Churches were asked to remove religious icons and sayings from the walls of Head Start classrooms; religious leaders were required to vow that they would "exert no religious influence" when offering counseling, and some organizations were told to remove the word "God" from their mission statements.

Religious groups often were lumped by federal officials into two categories, the report said: those that have purged their social services of religious instruction and were therefore "secular enough," and those that had a religious component to their social work and were ruled "too religious," despite acts of Congress and Supreme Court rulings to the contrary.

"We have a lot of work to do," said John DiIulio Jr., the director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Changing the anti-religious culture of the federal bureaucracy will be a formidable task, DiIulio said. "Organizational cultures are among the hardest substances known to humankind, save for diamonds."

Some public policy analysts warned, however, that many Americans might prefer a federal government that bends over backward to avoid endorsing religious practices.

"There is a very important other side to the debate as well," said Melissa Rogers, the executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Noting that the title of the report was "Unlevel Playing Field," Rogers said that while the field of social services may not seem level to the Bush administration, "it is much more complicated than that" in a county where the Constitution prohibits government establishment of religion. "Leveling it in some ways would create a problem," she said.

The White House report was released in the midst of congressional debate on how best to involve churches, synagogues, mosques, and other faith-based organizations in the treatment of social ills. Bush believes that the belief in a higher power offered by such groups can serve to rescue people from addictions, poverty, and other afflictions, and he wants to encourage their use.

Big religions and nonprofit groups have traditionally played leading roles in supplying federally funded social services. The report noted, for example, how Congress in 1990 explicitly approved of the use of vouchers for low-income families for church-run child-care programs.

Now, the report said, the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention are the nation's largest "chains" of child-care providers, and one out of six American child-care centers is housed in a religious facility.

The problem, the White House said, is not with big, organized religious "monopolists" that have long-standing relationships with federal agencies and know how to tailor their grant applications.

The faith-based groups that encounter resistance are typically seeking funds for smaller programs that include religious philosophy as part of their treatment or mission. Many of these same groups are discouraged, as well, by the complexity of the grant process. There is a "government/grass-roots gap," said DiIulio.

"People who share the same ZIP code as you, who know your families and your neighborhoods, are the best placed to offer a hand," said John Bridgeland, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council

But such religious groups face "an overriding perception by federal officials that close collaboration with religious organizations is legally suspect," the report said. "it is not Congress, but these overly restrictive agency rules that are repressive, restrictive and which actively undermine the established civil rights of the groups."

(Copyright ©2001, the Boston Globe; posted under the Fair Use provisions to promote discussion.)

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Bob Cory"
Subject: Re: Officials' anti-church bias alleged
Date: August 19, 2001 12:41 PM

Well, to call "conservative think tank" oxymoronic sounds somewhat knee-jerk if you ask me. Of course, this would be easier to see from my perspective of being neither truly conservative nor truly liberal.

The only ones who are talking about "anti-church bias" are the ones pushing for Bush's plan. The rest of us, I assume, are thinking in terms of trying to rescue the First Amendment or something along those lines. Of course you're going to be seen by some as engaging in "anti-church bias" when your job description entails a hands-off approach to anything religious while on duty -- as the First Amendment requires of government agencies and workers.

What's happening is that they're sinking fast. DiIlulio, Bush's faith-based czar, quit yesterday. Bush's plan is sinking as fast as Clinton's scheme to nationalize health care did at about the same point of time in his term. I'm surprised Bush got as far as he did, because there are some wonderful people in the House and Senate who know the Constitution. But many are too afraid to be seen as being anything remotely resembling anti-religious. This explains the charges of "anti-church bias": all that they really have left is to try to see how many of us they can take down with them when they fall. They're not going to win, so they might as well do as much collateral damage as they can, if for no other reason than as a warning for the next round.

The good thing is that the whole country has received a solid education on the issues of the separation of religion from government.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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