Bush expands charitable choice
December 20 2002 by Robert Marus , Associated Baptist Press

Bush expands charitable choice | Friday, Dec. 20, 2002

Friday, Dec. 20, 2002

Bush expands charitable choice

By Robert Marus Associated Baptist Press

PHILADELPHIA - President Bush has implemented a rule change designed to expand his "faith-based initiatives" that critics say does an end-run around Congress.

Some say the president is trying to have his constitutional cake and eat it too.

Bush signed an executive order Dec. 12 that ordered all federal agencies under his control to ignore the religious character of a charitable group in determining whether the group is eligible for government funds to perform social services.

Legislation to do the same passed the House in 2001 but stalled in the Senate this past fall. Bush's desire to expand the ability of religious charities to receive government grants and contracts is a major part of his agenda as president.

The executive order also contains provisions that secure the right of religious organizations to hire personnel on the basis of religion and ideology, even if they receive federal funding.

Previous federal civil-rights laws have given religious organizations the right to hire personnel on the basis of religion. However, courts have not settled the question of whether such employment practices remains legal if the organization receives federal funding.

Bush announced the executive order in a speech in Philadelphia to leaders of religious charities. "I recognize that government has no business endorsing a religious creed, or directly funding religious worship or religious teaching," he said. "That is not the business of the government. Yet government can and should support social services provided by religious people, as long as those services go to anyone in need regardless of their faith. And when government gives that support, charities and faith-based programs should not be forced to change their character or compromise their mission."

But supporters of strict church-state separation said the two principles - government funding and lack of government regulation - tend to be mutually exclusive.

"The president is trying to have it both ways," said Holly Hollman, general counsel for the Washington-based Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. "There is an inherent conflict between allowing religious social-service providers to maintain their distinctive character and complying with the Constitution's prohibition against government funding of religious activities, such as religious worship, instruction or proselytization."

Welton Gaddy, a Baptist minister who is director of the Washington-based Interfaith Alliance, said the president is "not doing religion a favor."

"In fact, while he demonstrates an understanding of and concern for the poor and needy that heartens all of us in the religious community, President Bush displays a frighteningly limited understanding of the nature of houses of worship and the legal complexities necessary for the preservation of religious liberty in this country," he said.

Other critics of the plan said it would essentially allow the government to fund religious discrimination - one of the major complaints that bogged down the faith-based legislation in the Senate.

"There is something ironic and wrong about trying to stop alleged discrimination against religious groups by implementing a regulation that actually subsidizes religious discrimination in job hiring," said Rep. Chet Edwards, a Texas Democrat, in response to Bush's remarks. "No American citizen should have to pass someone else's religious test to qualify for a federally funded job."

Senior White House officials told Associated Baptist Press that Bush views the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as allowing religious groups to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion, whether or not the government funds them.

Ralph Neas, head of People for the American Way, found irony in the fact that Bush announced the executive order in the same speech in which he criticized Senator Trent Lott for comments many critics viewed as discriminatory. "Far from championing equal rights, the president is endorsing tax-funded discrimination," Neas said.

"President Bush says his policy is designed to put religious groups on an equal footing, but in fact he has created a special right for religious groups to discriminate using tax dollars, something other groups are forbidden from doing," Neas said.

Bush's order includes language designed to ensure that federal funds given to religious organizations do not go to support "religious worship, instruction or proselytization." The White House released a set of guidelines for religious groups applying for government funding.

Bush also signed an executive order creating new offices of faith-based initiatives in two more federal agencies - the Department of Agriculture and the Agency for International Development.

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12/20/2002 12:00:00 AM by Robert Marus , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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