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Salvation Army

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“My attitude is, the government should not fear faith-based programs — we ought to welcome faith-based programs and we ought to fund faith-based programs,” he said from the pulpit of the packed Union Bethel A.M.E Church in a run-down, crime-plagued neighborhood near this city’s downtown. “Faith-based programs are only effective because they do practice faith. It’s important for our government to understand that.”

  –President Bush, 01/15/04, during a speech about his faith-based initiatives

Our president has put both feet onto the top of a slippery “establishment of religion” slope, hasn’t he? Sure has. But we’re lucky: America will never have a religion-based government … not even one run by those hippie Unitarian Universalists. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a government that oversteps its bounds when it comes to religion.

In order to prevent government-sponsored religious injustices from occurring in the U.S., such as the implicit endorsement of one religion over another or all others, we need to roll back some of Bush’s faith-based initiatives. The problem: Bush’s programs fund religious intervention, not just social services. And that ain’t right.

Helping Those In Need

Every once in a while, Bush sounds like a closet liberal. For instance, he says that the efforts of religious groups, “such as feeding the homeless, teaching neighborhood children karate and running a day-care center — are a perfect example of the kind of programs the federal government should fund.”

Hey, I agree. Those are the types of programs our federal government should fund: secular programs run by religious or secular organizations. As long as the people who work for a religious organization receiving federal dollars don’t have to pass a religious litmus test, and as long as the group isn’t evangelizing their religion, I’m good. Federally funded assistance to the poor and needy should come without a religion lesson or attempt to save someone’s soul.

For example: No sermons at the soup kitchen. No Gideon bibles at the karate lessons. No prayers at the day care center. No “come here for this service, which you are in great need of … as long as you listen to my proselytizing.” No conditions, no price tag, no nothing but the service itself.

Not So Fast, George

So on the one hand, Bush sounds like he’s talking about letting religious organizations compete for federal funding to support their social services but not their religious outreach programs.

But on the other hand, just when I thought I could give him a pat on the back, I kept reading what he said last week.

Problems that face our society are oftentimes problems that, you know, require something greater than just a government program or a government counselor to solve. Intractable problems, problems that seem impossible to solve, can be solved. There is the miracle of salvation that is real, that is tangible, that is available for all to see. [italics mine]

There’s the problem. Bush can’t see that people who don’t share his faith don’t necessarily find his religion’s tenets tangible and obvious. Bush maintains that his religious awakening changed his life. I happen to believe he’s sincere about that. Unfortunately, he’s also sincere about federally funding the religious salvation — a.k.a. the conversion to Christianity, specifically — of America’s poor and needy.

Bush’s programs are like those “free” trips to Florida run by real estate time-share agencies: you think you’re just getting a free meal [or trip to the Sunshine state]. But there’s a price. In oder to qualify, you have to hear all about the wonders of the faith [or visit a bunch of crappy condos] every time you want a free ham and cheese sandwich [or precancerous sunburn].

Are All Religions Created Equally?

When Bush talks about salvation, he’s referring to his religion in particular, not all religions. So when he proposes or pushes through these faith-based initiatives, I don’t think he can be objective about why he’s doing it. He honestly believes, as do most Christians, that the more people who convert to Christianity, the better. I don’t necessarily think they’re wrong, unless these conversions are subsidized by taxpayer money, in which case it’s unconstitutional.

And I kind of doubt Bush would be as sincere about these initiatives if the country started pumping out radical Muslims instead of conservative Christians.

So when our president uses religious terminology and his own experience to describe why he wants to give public money to religious organizations, he’s tipping his hand. It’s not just about helping the poor overcome their poverty. It’s also about saving them in the Christian sense. Salvation is fine as long as it’s done with private money.

To top it off, organizations representing different religions will compete for public money. No matter how you slice it, someone’s religion is going to get less than someone else’s. [I can only imagine how much the National Association of Atheists is going to get!] My guess is that Christian organizations will receive the lion’s share of the public money. But how will we know if the inevitable funding imbalances — no matter in whose favor — are based on anything but religious preference? How will we know the government isn’t simply endorsing one religion by giving it more money than the others, and therefore more opportunities to reach out to new “members”?

We shouldn’t use taxpayer money to take advantage of the needs of the poor in order to push a little religion into their lives. The American government shouldn’t be in the business of funding religious activities or evangelism. So I say give the religious organizations the money to help the poor, but put back the rule — which Bush rescinded — that prohibits the use of that money for religious activities.

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About bhw

  • Apparently, the best way to fight the Taliban is to become them. Are the Salem Witch Trials around the corner? Religion-based McCarthyism? Why is it that politicians continually throw around the name Jesus like a glittering generality while ignoring the principals the Jesus represented? When will Bush actually attempt to follow the ideals the model of Jesus? Jesus didn’t kill people, Mr. President. I think that Jesus never intended that he would become an oppressor. Keep religion out of government.

  • bhw

    I don’t think we’re close to becoming the Taliban, but I do think, as I said in the post, that Bush is standing atop the so-called slippery slope of government sanctioned religion.

    Best to leave religion out of it entirely. If religious organizations are good at charity work, give them the money to do that work. Just make sure they leave religious activities out of it when they spend that money.