One of the main complaints coming from supporters of the separation of church and state was the Bush administrations support for faith-based initiatives. The initiatives were a series of laws, rule changes, and government funding for church based social programs. A recent media report and a book to be published on Monday put a spot light on the special status religion enjoys within the federal government and how faith-based initiatives were used as a political ploy by the White House.
Supporters of real religious liberty have always charged that such government entanglement with religion was a political ploy and a violation of the 1st amendment.
Charitable choice originated with then-Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.) during the drafting of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. The concept altered existing law to permit taxpayer-financed social service funding of houses of worship in a few welfare programs.
This approach represented a radical change. In the past, government sometimes contracted with organizations such as Catholic Charities or United Jewish Communities to provide services, but safeguards were kept in place to protect the rights of the disadvantaged, the integrity of the groups and the interests of taxpayers. Houses of worship did not contract directly with the government; rather, religious institutions created separate entities to deal with public funds and did not incorporate religion into the publicly funded program.
Charitable choice removed many of those safeguards. As a result, families in need could face unwanted pressure to participate in religious exercises at facilities funded by the government. The policy also permitted groups to discriminate in hiring on religious grounds, even for positions completely paid for by taxpayer dollars.
Charitable choice became part of the welfare law in 1996, but the federal government was hesitant to implement the policy due to constitutional concerns. Moreover, only a handful of states have altered their programs to allow for government funding of religious ministries.
The ‘Faith-Based’ Initiative
This past week the New York Times published a series on the money and special exemptions that religious groups have enjoyed as religious conservatives came to control more of the domestic agenda of this country:
It reported on October 8th, that since 1989, religious groups have received over 200 special arrangements, protections or exemptions in Congressional legislation, on topics from pensions to immigration to land use and allowing exemptions to Federal employment discrimination laws. These special arrangements have also come from winning court decisions and federal agency rule changes. 98% of the special treatment goes to Christian groups.
“As a result of these special breaks, religious organizations of all faiths stand in a position that American businesses — and the thousands of nonprofit groups without that “religious” label — can only envy.”
Religion Trumps Regulation As Legal Exemptions Grow 10/08/2006 Front Page
Then on Monday October 16th a book will be released by the former deputy director of the administration’s office of faith-based initiatives that tells of the behind back mocking of religious conservatives by White House staffers while using the office to energize the religious conservatives to vote for Republicans.
The former official also writes that the White House office of faith-based initiatives, which Bush promoted as a nonpolitical effort to support religious social-service organizations, was told to host pre-election events designed to mobilize religious voters who would most likely favor Republican candidates.
The assertions by David Kuo, a top official in the faith-based initiatives program, have rattled Republican strategists already struggling to persuade evangelical voters to turn out this fall for the GOP.
White House strategists “knew ‘the nuts’ were politically invaluable, but that was the extent of their usefulness,” Kuo writes, according to the cable channel MSNBC, which obtained an advance copy.
“Sadly, the political affairs folks complained most often and most loudly about how boorish many politically involved Christians were…. National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person and then were dismissed behind their backs and described as ‘ridiculous’ and ‘out of control.’ ”
Book: Bush Aides Called Evangelicals ‘Nuts’
Kuo isn’t the first official to tell all. John J. DiIulio Jr., the first director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, resigned after seven months with some of the same complaints Kuo makes.
There are no surprises in these two pieces of news. The GOP has always used religious conservatives for political gain since the days of Ronald Reagan and every time the evangelicals fall for it then whine when they find out they got played.