[Hpn] To Much Religion Can Hinder Grant Prospects

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Sat, 12 Feb 2005 22:19:16 -0500


Too much religion can hinder grant prospects

Groups that want faith-based funds can't openly proselytize


Feb 13, 2005

WASHINGTON -- President Bush is pushing for more federal money for
faith-based groups to provide social services. But too much religion can be
a negative.

Janelle Basham was 16, pregnant and desperate when she arrived on the
doorstep of the Liberty Godparent Home for young, pregnant women in
Lynchburg, Va.
"For me, it was a life saver," Basham says of her seven-month stint in the
maternity home founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell. She is now 28, an adoption
social worker and the married mother of two other children.
The group home provides the anti-abortion service that Bush wants for
pregnant women in crisis. His latest budget proposal includes $10 million
for privately run group maternity homes.
But Liberty Godparent Home does not qualify for a grant because it's too
religious, requiring live-ins to attend daily Bible class and church
services three times a week.
"We would love to think there are [federal] funds available to us -- as long
as we can run our program the way we see fit," said Carol Godwin, executive
director of the Liberty Godparent Foundation,
"We wouldn't change . . . just to get the money," she said.
The Alpha House of Tampa, a Florida maternity home, has the opposite
The group home, started by local residents in 1981, briefly toyed with the
idea of linking up with a local church in order to qualify for federal
faith-based funds.
"I wish we had an infinite supply of money because we have an infinite
amount of people in need," Executive Director Bonnie Christiano said.
But "we want to be able to serve anybody who comes to our door, without
[religious] restriction. We are very, very concerned that nobody feels
pressured," she said.
Christiano said a government workshop on Bush's 2001 Faith-based and
Community Initiative left her with the impression that it was "geared almost
entirely to the faith-based organizations" rather than community groups like
hers that are what she calls "spiritual" but not church-based.
Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith Based and Community
Initiatives, said that is not true.
"It's simply not done that there is a pot of money set aside for faith-based
groups. The focus is not on whether organizations believe in God or not,"
Towey said.
Nor can the federal government finance groups that force "any religious
activity" on its participants.
Last month, a federal judge blocked the Bush administration from giving any
more grants to an Arizona group, MentorKids USA, because it proselytized
while mentoring the children of inmates.
. . .
Critics claim the whole concept of Bush's faith-based initiative violates
the separation of church and state.
White House officials argue that local groups can better meet their
communities' needs and can give the poor more choice of services.
Faith-based groups got almost $1.2 billion out of the $14.5 billion worth of
competitive grants awarded by five state agencies in 2003.
They ranged from a Charleston, S.C., soup kitchen with no religious agenda
to a Tucson, Ariz., center that displays a picture of Jesus and quotes from
the Bible.
The Liberty Godparent Home operates on private funds and caters to all
economic backgrounds. It has helped more than 800 young women since 1984.
Alpha House runs mostly on private donations but also has received three
federal grants for the homeless over the years, although the money has not
kept pace with rising costs and the doubled caseload. It takes only
destitute women.
But the goals of both groups are similar: they aim for healthy babies and
productive, self-sufficient adults.
"We help everyone get on welfare [and Medicaid] and then we help them get
off welfare," Christiano said.
Many Alpha House clients end up staying two years or more, going back to
school, finding jobs and learning to become self-sufficient adults and
Joann Liberatore, 35, was pregnant and living in a homeless shelter when she
heard about Alpha House more than two years ago.
Encouraged by their counselors, she is set to graduate in June from Tampa's
Erwin Technical Center. She also has a full-time chef's job lined up at a
local hotel, her own apartment and subsidized day care for her son, Ceejay,
Without Alpha House, "I wouldn't be doing half the things I'm doing now,"
she said.
Basham, whose parents encouraged her to stay at the Liberty Godparent Home
after she was harassed in her hometown of Dunn, N.C. -- she was pregnant
with a biracial child -- said she found "complete, unconditional love"
Twelve years after leaving, Basham counsels other unwed girls at Falwell's
adoption agency. She also keeps in close touch with her adopted daughter,
whose family contacted Basham several years ago.

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