Thursday, March 30, 2006

Separation of Church and State Nearer to Extinction

Americans United Criticizes Bush Push For 'Faith-Based' Funding

Church-State Watchdog Group Charges That President Is Undercutting Civil Rights And Civil Liberties

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today blasted the Bush administration for its relentless effort to steer federal funds to religious organizations, charging that the “faith-based” initiative undermines civil rights and civil liberties.

President George W. Bush renewed his push for the initiative today in a speech in Washington, D.C. A new administration report claims that $2.15 billion in tax aid was directed to faith-based groups for social services during the last fiscal year.

James Towey, head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, asserts that Bush is breaking down barriers that prevented religious groups from accessing government funds.

“The president seems to have little or no regard for the separation of church and state,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “This initiative clearly rolls back constitutional safeguards and civil rights protections that people count on.

“Bush is slashing social service spending across the board and using the faith-based initiative to divert attention from the cuts,” said Lynn. “This initiative is a scam, and I hope America’s religious leaders and the American people don’t fall for it.”

Lynn added, “Bush persists in claiming that religious charities have a better success rate than governmental and private secular programs. However, there is no proof that this assertion is true.

“It is particularly deplorable that Bush boasts about rolling back civil rights protections for government employment,” Lynn continued. “This initiative lets religious groups run publicly funded programs that openly discriminate in hiring on religious grounds. That’s an outrage.”

Under executive orders issued by the president, tax dollars can go to religious groups to operate social services even if they discriminate in hiring on religious grounds. Thus, taxpayers are being required to pay for programs where they would not be allowed to work or even volunteer.

Lynn charged that far from trying to create a level playing field for faith-based groups, Bush wants to tilt the process toward favored religious groups and leaders.

I don’t think it’s coincidental that TV preacher Pat Robertson, a prominent Bush backer, received $1.5 million in faith-based funding,” said Lynn.

The initiative, Lynn said, has clearly been used for partisan purposes. He noted that in February, Towey spoke at a conference on the initiative for religious leaders in Pennsylvania, where U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, who is locked in a tight re-election bid, appeared via video.