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Bush v. Constitution: Faith-based initiative bad for America

by Loren Moreno, editor


Editor’s note: Following is a reprint of the Pa‘i-Award-winning opinion piece for 2004.


In his State of the Union address on Jan. 20, President George W. Bush again asked for the passage of his “faith-based” initiative, saying that government should end discrimination against people of faith. Until now, government and religion have remained separate under the U.S. Constitution. However, over the past three years, both church and state have experienced a bizarre convergence that needs scrutiny if America is to preserve its traditional freedoms.

Government money for social services to the poor is now being distributed by government agencies. Bush’s initiative would take that money and allow religious groups to bid for such funds along with government agencies. In other words, both government agencies and religious groups would compete for limited federal funds.

Bush’s legislation has not gone unopposed. Democrats, liberals, and moderates alike, as well as some conservatives, have questioned whether such legislation would violate the constitutional separation of church and state. Bush administration officials have contended that government would not be directly funding religion, but instead would be funding religious groups and charities that help the homeless, the impoverished, the sick, and the addicted.

While this may be true, the administration fails to see a very key point in the opposition argument. While these religious programs may be helping those in need, such programs aren’t regulated, and religion and community service are often times mixed. As a matter of fact, the lines can sometimes be blurred between the actual religious and social service aspects of these programs. For example: a sex abuse treatment center that helps women and other victims through preaching and bible study.

Bush also supports allowing access to federal funds to religious groups that discriminate against people based on race, sexual orientation, and people of opposition faith. Far beyond separation of church and state arguments, such radical stances are a violation of civil rights and equal opportunity legislation. Despite this fact, President Bush pushes his faith-based agenda. Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said, “He [President Bush] thinks faith-based organizations should be able to hire people who support their vision and mission.”

The unfortunate fact is that some religious organization’s vision excludes homosexuals and non-Christians. Government money and government-funded services should not exclude groups, but according to this legislation, it can and will.

Under President Bush’s legislation, our tax money not only will be given to religious organizations in whose faith we may not believe, but it will also be given to religious organizations that openly discriminate against other faiths, homosexuals, and people of color. Our tax money will either be used to fund discrimination and proselytizing, or it will free the organization’s fund for these discriminating activities. This is not the America outlined in the Constitution.

The Bush administration has no evidence that religious programs do a better job at helping those in need than secular government agencies or non government secular organizations such as the Red Cross or United Way. Nonetheless, Bush administration officials readily state such claims. “There are so many people in need that the federal government is not getting the job done,” said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer to reporters when Bush first introduced the legislation.

While it may be true that government agencies cannot be everything to everyone, we cannot allow the government agencies that are trying to help those in need compete against religious groups for a limited number of tax dollars. Government should fund government and religion should fund religion. We should not take funding away from government agencies and hand it over to religious organizations. This is not only bad policy but also unconstitutional.

Bush’s legislation is also bad for religion. While Bush may claim that the initiative will not support one religion over another, critical examination pokes major holes in that argument. If money is given to mainstream Judeo-Christian religions, government automatically favors one religion over another. If government cannot give equal amounts of money to the many religions that do exist, it shouldn’t give money to any religion. Bush isn’t saying he would give to the Taoist, Buddhist, Unitarians, Wiccans, Catholics, or Hindus. Nor is he saying he wouldn’t. He definitely says he plans to give to Protestant Christian churches.

This fact alone is a violation of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” By giving money to any religion, government takes the first step to establishing a religion and makes one religion more powerful than another.

Taxpayer’s dollars should not be given to a religion they may not believe in. Reverend Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said, “The president apparently believes that every social problem can be solved by sending those in need to a religious service—and he wants the American taxpayer to pay for it. This is completely wrong-headed.”

We have all witnessed what governments that are faith based have accomplished. We need only look to Afghanistan under its Taliban government to see how faith-based governments have oppressed and demoralized a nation’s people. As Americans we cannot and should not allow our constitutional rights to religious freedom to be violated. Our founding fathers escaped a tyrannical government that forced state-sponsored religion down their throats and now, with Bush’s faith-based government, we face the same fate.



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