1. Bush's 'Affirmative Action' Plan For Funding Religion
Here is more on Bush's plan to allow only religious groups to compete for certain government grants, specifically disallowing any group that does not have a religious message to give along with whatever hand-out we're funding today.
For Immediate Release
May 17, 2001
Americans United for Separation of Church and State 202-466-3234 telephone
Americans United Denounces Faith-Based 'Set-Aside' from Bush Administration
'Religious Quota' from Health and Human Services Department. is Inconsistent with Promises and Federal Law, Says AU
A federal program that makes public funds available exclusively to religious groups is inconsistent with the law and President George W. Bush's promises about how his "faith-based initiative" will be implemented, according to a national church-state watchdog group.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State research has learned of a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) program that makes $4 million in grant funds available only to "faith-based" institutions for substance abuse and HIV prevention.
According to HHS materials, secular service organizations are not eligible to seek or receive funding under this program.
"This faith-based set-aside is solid evidence from this administration that it is embracing a system of favoritism toward religion," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "This isn't a level playing field, it's an arena where secular groups aren't even allowed to play.
"This religious quota is not only inconsistent with Bush's promises, it is inconsistent with the Constitution," Lynn added. "I believe the White House is inviting a lawsuit it is certain to lose."
In March, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which is part of HHS, announced a multi-million dollar funding opportunity to establish AIDS prevention programs in minority communities. On the application for funds, one program, worth $4 million, was limited to "faith-based organizations" and "youth-serving organizations collaborating with faith-based organizations."
Americans United has written to HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson to notify the department of this program's unconstitutionality.
"The criteria used to select the grant recipients are not neutral and secular but instead favor religion," AU's letter said. "The aid is not available on a nondiscriminatory basis to both religious and secular beneficiaries, but it is only available to organizations that are religious themselves or are working with religious organizations."
The Bush administration has insisted repeatedly in recent months that it merely wants to allow religious groups to compete with secular organizations for federal grants.
On Jan. 29, for example, Bush unveiled his faith-based initiative at a White House ceremony and said, "Faith-based charities should be able to compete for funding on an equal basis."
AU's Lynn responded, "There's nothing 'equal' about discriminating against secular service providers. It appears that the rhetoric of the faith-based initiative's supporters doesn't match the reality."
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.
The Associated Press
May 17, 2001, Thursday, BC cycle
HHS grant program restricted to religious groups
by Laura Meckler,
Associated Press Writer
President Bush and others have long complained that religious groups are excluded from competing for government grants. But tucked inside the Department of Health and Human Services is a grant program that excludes secular groups.
Federal grants to prevent HIV and drug abuse are being offered only to religious groups, in what opponents say is the first-ever set-aside for religion. They also argue that it's hypocritical and blatantly unconstitutional.
"It's totally inconsistent with this administration's constant claim that everybody should be on equal footing," said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
Lynn promised Wednesday to file suit by July, when applications are due, if HHS does not change its rules for who can apply.
The $4 million in grants are meant to help organizations that work with young people, particularly in black and Hispanic communities, to address drug abuse and HIV prevention at the same time. The application specifies that applicants must be "faith-based organizations" or be working with them.
The program, put in place before Bush took office in January, totals $16.6 million, with three components. Just one of the three excludes secular groups.
It's the agency's first effort to set money aside for religious groups and was done because officials believe these groups are in the best position to reach at-risk teens, said Mark Weber, a spokesman for HHS' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
"Faith-based organizations have access to the young people we are trying to reach," Weber said.
The legal debate over funding religious groups typically centers on whether giving them tax dollars amounts to an unconstitutional mingling of church and state. Opponents have argued that even if religious and secular groups are both funded, funding religious groups violates the First Amendment's ban on establishment of religion.
In a letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson on Wednesday, Lynn cited a U.S. Supreme Court case that is usually used by the other side-one that he blasted when it was issued. He quoted Justice Sandra Day O'Connor who wrote that government money must be "available to both religious and secular beneficiaries on a nondiscriminatory basis."
Weber said these legal issues "absolutely" were discussed.
"Before we put anything out on the street like this, we make sure we've crossed our t's and dotted our i's," he said. "We're very aware of what's constitutional and what's not constitutional."
Bush, in promoting his "faith-based initiative," has consistently stressed the idea of equal competition. "When people of faith provide social services, we will not discriminate against them," he said in announcing his initiative on Jan. 29.
A coalition of conservatives made the same point when they rallied around the Bush plan last month, issuing a statement of principles that said any legislation should not only avoid preferences among religious but avoid "preferences between religious and nonreligious providers."
The White House had no immediate comment on whether the program belies the president's principles. But one Bush backer said he hoped that Bush would order a change in the application.
"The principles we're arguing for is there ought to be no discrimination," said James Skillen, president of the Center for Public Justice. If the White House was on board with the religious set aside, he said, "that would shock me off my feet."
Another conservative wasn't sure it's a bad idea.
"For so long there's been so much discrimination against faith-based organizations," said Connie Marshner of the Free Congress Foundation. "I'd say it's a leveling of the field."
2. Special Rights For Organized Religion
Along the same lines as the above dispatch, groups of the Organized Religion variety, specifically because they are religious groups (and for no other reason), are allowed to violate laws which individuals and groups who are not part of the Organized Religion game must obey -- or face moderate or severe penalties.
Today's example of this double-standard involves the Mormon Church, which is allowed to violate zoning laws because it is a religious group, laws which the rest of us must follow since we are not religious groups.
05/17/01 BOSTON -- "The steeple of a Mormon Temple is essential to its religious mission and cannot be regulated by zoning laws, the Supreme Judicial Court said yesterday in allowing the controversial steeple to be added to a temple in Belmont, MA.
"Neighbors claimed the steeple would be an eyesore, and said the temple shouldn't be exempt from zoning requirements that would limit its height.
"The dispute hinged on whether the steeple was critical to the religious mission of the temple."
From Cape Cod Times, page A4, 17 May 01.
From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: AU Denounces Faith-Based "Set-Aside": Press Release & News Article
Date: Friday, May 18, 2001 12:47 AM
WHAT is going on, here?
Does ANY of this invite impeachment proceedings?
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
people with no reason to believe
From: "AUactivist" <AUactivist@au.org>
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: AU Denounces Faith-Based "Set-Aside": Press Release & News Article
Date: Monday, May 21, 2001 5:34 PM
So far, most everything is simply "proposed" ... no action has been taken. I don't know if these actions rise to the level of impeachment. Our legal department is, however, keeping an eye on the administration.
Thanks for your message and your support.
National Grassroots Organizer
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