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Bush's Faith-Based Initiative

July 6, 2003

“It’s All About Discrimination: A Layman’s Guide to Bush’s Faith-Based Initiative”
(written March 2003)
Q. I don’t understand President Bush’s “Faith-Based” Initiative. Can you explain it to me?
A. Sure. It’s all about discrimination.

Q. Discrimination against religious charities by the government?
A. No. Federal, State, and local governments give billions of dollars to religious charities like Catholic Charities, United Lutheran Ministries, and United Jewish Communities to do their good works.
Q. Isn’t that a violation of Church and State?
A. No. These charities, like the churches and synagogues that receive government funding, have secular programs set up separately from the religious activities they perform. They use government funds to employ and serve all qualified Americans in their local communities, without regard to religious belief. Because these charities, though infused with a religious mission, are technically separate from churches and synagogues, there is no need for government audits of churches and synagogues and no religious instruction or attempts to convert people in federally-funded programs, just a lot of good help to people in need: soup kitchens, homeless shelters, nursing homes, job training, literacy classes, etc.
Q. Isn’t that what President Bush wants?
A. No. That’s current law. President Bush wants to change this system.
Q. Why? Is it not working?
A. Ask Catholic Charities, United Lutheran Ministries, United Jewish Communities, or any of the hundreds of other religious charities that have received billions of federal dollars and hire and serve everyone qualified in their communities. Most everyone will tell you the current system works just fine.
Q. So what does Bush want?
A. Federally-funded discrimination.
Q. Huh?
A. I told you. These organizations hire any qualified American with federal funds to perform these vital services. Bush doesn’t like that.
Q. Why not?
A. He doesn’t think Catholics and Jews should have to work together serving soup, or that Protestants and atheists should teach job training together. For example, Bush supports the right of the United Methodist Children’s Home in Decatur, Georgia — which takes care of foster kids of all backgrounds– to receive State funds but refuse to hire Jews or people who have sex before marriage.
Q. But shouldn’t religions be able to hire their own? What about a church hiring a minister?
A. Under current law, religious organizations may use their private funds to discriminate in hiring based on religion. That makes sense with religious jobs: no Catholic Church would want to hire a non-Catholic priest to perform communion or teach Sunday school. But communion and Sunday school are not funded by American taxes.
Q. What about non-religious jobs?
A. Religious organizations may also discriminate with non-religious jobs funded by their parishioners. For example, it is legal for a Mormon-Church-owned gymnasium to fire a Mormon janitor who does not tithe 10% of his income to the Church.
Q. Is this what Bush wants?
A. No. That’s current law. What Bush wants is for this religious discrimination against janitors at church-owned gyms or homeless shelters to be financed by taxpayers. That would be new.
Q. I thought the Bush faith-based initiative was bigger than just discrimination.
A. It is. But the parts that are not about discrimination are either identical to current law, minor clarifications supported by Congress, or clearly unconstitutional. For example, an additional element of the Bush plan provides for taxpayers funding the “secular” part of the cost of church building.
Q. Isn’t that a problem?
A. It is, but it’s a clear violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution. The Courts should strike it down.
Q. So what will be the result if Congress does not stop the Faith-Based Initiative?
A. Your taxpayer money — which originally went to charities that hired all Americans — will now be diverted to groups that practice religious discrimination. It is also required to be equally available to the Nation of Islam, the Church of Scientology, the Church of Reverend Moon, and other religious organizations and cults who can legally put up signs saying, “Federally-Funded Program: No Christians or Jews May Work Here”
Q. Don’t we have enough religious strife all over the world without requiring the government to fund discrimination at home?
A. Perhaps, but this is a way to promote understanding. It’s kind of like bringing a little bit of the Middle East to our shores.

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