[Hpn] Dubya, defender of the faith

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Thu, 08 Feb 2001 11:54:57 -0700

via Solidarity4Ever@igc.topica.com

Date: Wed, 07 Feb 2001 21:24:28 -0800
From: Michael Eisenscher <meisenscher@igc.org>
Subject: Dubya, defender of the faith

Dubya, defender of the faith
What's Behind the Faith-Based Initiative?

By Bruce Lincoln, Caroline E. Haskell Professor of
History of Religions at the University of Chicago.


You have to give W. credit. He doesn't comport himself
like someone who lost the popular vote by half a million
and needed all his father's horses and all his father's
men, not to mention five eminences noires, to boost him
into the Oval Office. Some people would walk softly under
the circumstances, but Texans are made of sterner stuff.
Besides, he has debts to pay.

Among the largest is to the religious right, which
rescued him in South Carolina when his campaign faltered,
and brought him more (and more highly committed) workers,
donors, and voters than any other group. The horse they
backed won, if lamely and barely, and it's time to cash
in their chits. Typically, this involves a healthy feed
at the federal trough, but in this case First Amendment
concerns pose inconvenient obstacles. What's a fellow to

Shift the terms of debate, for one. Last Monday, our new
president thus announced his intention to restructure
things so federal funds can reach "faith-based and
community" programs and groups. Though the phrase rolls
neatly from his disingenuous lips, the terms in it are
far from equal in weight. "Community" is feel-good
distraction and filler, there never having been the
slightest problem in funding community groups. Further,
the government has long funded charitable organizations
that are related to, but separate from, religious
denominations (Lutheran Social Services, for example). In
contrast, "faith-based" in his usage serves as a
euphemism for groups that advance religious beliefs as an
inextricable part of their mission and yearn for federal
largesse to underwrite their proselytizing.

That's how it works under the terms of the "charitable
choice" bill passed by Congress in 1996, with John
Ashcroft as its sponsor. This legislation enabled Texas
to fund Jobs Partnership of Washington County, a "faith-
based" group that requires Bible study of the people it
counsels on how "to find employment through a
relationship with Jesus Christ." Kentucky ponied up to
Baptist Homes for Children, which fires employees who
happen to be gay. Both cases have resulted in litigation,
and they give a taste of things to come. In actual
practice, "faith-based" will mean not just religious, but
-- make no mistake -- evangelical, charismatic, and
fundamentalist Christian, leavened with enough token
admixture of Jews, Catholics, and others to permit denial
of obvious bias.

The White House insists this initiative does not amount
to pork barrel patronage of an unprecedented sort or sub-
contracting of basic social service to a dubious band of
the faithful. Rather, it comes in recognition that faith
has been the element missing in welfare programs. It can
help addicts kick their habit, so we are told, and it
buoys the chronically unemployed in their search for
work. The evidence for this thesis is weak and largely
anecdotal (Alcoholics Anonymous being a noteworthy
exception), but the president's life is said to bear
witness. Still, even were these claims the purest Gospel
truth, the constitutional questions would still remain.

The First Amendment mandates separation of Church and
State in no uncertain terms, and for very strong reasons.
Above all is the founders' concern that the state be
scrupulously even-handed, since favor shown any religious
group abridges all others' freedom of worship.
Accordingly, one must ask, if "faith-based" groups can
now compete for federal grants, which groups will receive
these funds and who will be denied them? Who will decide
and on what basis?

Mr. Bush's people say they want any group with proven
results to apply, but they fail to explain just who in
the administration will review Pat Robertson's claims of
success and act on his applications. Forgive me if I am
not reassured. Instead, I envision a country where untold
billions of taxpayers' dollars flow through the
government to those religious groups who backed winning
candidates, just as parishioners' contributions flow
through their churches to the candidates on whom they
wager. All very neat, tidy, and profitable (for the
winners, at least), but not very good for the life of
faith or the good of the nation.

In addition to blocking even the tiniest baby steps that
might point toward establishment of a state church
("Congress shall make no law..."), the First Amendment
also guards against another serious danger. This is the
temptation for the state to co-opt religious leaders,
appropriate religious symbols, and play on religious
sentiments, subverting them all to rally support for
leaders and policies that cannot be defended in rational
debate. Divine right kings used to posture as "defender
of the faith," but the presidents of a democratic
republic ought resist such misguided and manipulative
grandiosity. Strict separation of Church and State, as
mandated by the Constitution, protects the independence,
dignity, and integrity of both institutions. Mr. Bush
would be wise to observe this time-honored principle and
find other, less costly ways to pay off the debts he

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