January 26, 2006
Funding the fundies
When President Bush launched his “faith-based initiative” in 2001 to funnel federal money to religious groups, Pat Robertson was skeptical, calling the idea a “Pandora’s box” and a “narcotic” that would ensnare religious organizations in government red tape.
Those misgivings notwithstanding, the federal government has become a major source of money for Operation Blessing, Robertson’s international charity, under the Bush initiative. In two years, the group’s annual revenue from government grants has ballooned from $108,000 to $14.4 million.
Critics worry that the president’s program, which directed more than $2 billion to religious groups nationwide in 2004, is subsidizing evangelistic activity and religious discrimination in hiring.
Operation Blessing says it adheres carefully to federal guidelines designed to safeguard church-state separation and uses the grants for humanitarian relief, not evangelism.
… Among other things, those guidelines say federal money must not be used for “inherently religious activities.” Any such activities must be separated, in time or location, from government-funded activities, and recipients of services must not be required to participate in them.
… Some say that’s a difficult line to draw. “We’re concerned that people might just put up with proselytizing because they need the help,” said Joe Conn, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, another Washington-based lobby group. “Often, these folks are not in a position to complain. They don’t want to rock the boat.”
And then of course there’s the little issue that organizations like Operating Blessing hire only Christians, blatently breaking federal anti-discrimination law:
U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Norfolk and Portsmouth, has been one of the initiative’s most persistent critics in Congress. He says it flies in the face of federal anti-discrimination protections that date back to the civil rights laws of the 1960s.
Once when testifying on the issue, Scott recalled recently, he was asked by a congressional colleague, “What’s wrong with Catholics hiring Catholics?”
“My response was that we had had that debate 40 years ago, and my side won,” he said. “We convinced enough people that telling somebody they can’t get a job solely because of their race, color, creed, national origin or sex was so inherently offensive that we made it illegal.”
“If a policy that ‘we don’t hire Catholics, Jews or Muslims’ offends you, I don’t have to explain to you what’s wrong with the faith-based initiative.”
Hat tip to The Carpetbagger Report.
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