$500 Million for federal "bigotry based" initiative ?
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Feb 19, 2006 at 06:43:07 PM EST
The backdrop : The year was 1999, and the outlook for many Christian right organizations, wrote Esther Kaplan in 2004 for The Nation, seemed grim :

Five years ago the Christian right was in a tenuous position. Its standard-bearer, the Christian Coalition, was under investigation by the IRS and the Federal Election Commission, and many of its state chapters were nearing collapse. Its lead organizers were fleeing so fast that one former field director called the organization "defunct." Groups such as the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America, undergoing their own leadership transitions, had not yet risen to take the coalition's place. The movement had staked nearly everything on the drive to impeach Bill Clinton, and after that effort collapsed, its leaders projected a palpable sense of gloom.

Well, what a difference a new presidency, a few years, and a few billion dollars can make ! President George W. Bush has just quietly signed legislation adding even further - by half a billion dollars, to be spent over 5 years - to growing rivers of federal cash flowing, under Mr. Bush's presidency, to "Faith Based" initiatives allowed to both practice religious discrimination in hiring and also, by mandate of federal law, enjoined - claims the Bush Administration - from using federal "faith based" money targeted at strengthening marriages to help gay couples who are married or have domestic partnerships and civil unions.

Talk To Action Special Feature: To get a glimpse of where "Faith Based" initiatives" may be headed, check out Talk To Action contributor moiv's series on the impact of "Faith Based" initiatives on reproductive rights in Texas. Last installment : "Pregant ? Need Help ? Call 1-800-PROPAGANDA"
[ Esther Kaplan continues ] Paul Weyrich, the master coalition builder who had inspired Jerry Falwell to build a "moral majority" in America, wrote a Dear Friend letter that resounded with defeat. "I no longer believe that there is a moral majority," he wrote in February 1999. "I do not believe that a majority of Americans actually shares our values." He declared that the right had lost the culture war and that America was becoming "an ever-widening sewer."
Well, that was 1999. Now it's 2006, and we're in the thick of a concerted, programmatic effort - on the part of the Christian right and their allies in the GOP - to defund federal and state social safety nets and shift some of that money to "faith based" programs that provide the same services, sort of, and less efficiently. What's the current scope of "faith based" funding ? How much money may be involved ? Even the federal government seems hazy on the figures, but see this overview of mine, from February 2005

What's this new "faith based" legislation really about ? What was the origin of the legislation ? Bob Johnson provides analysis [ with ensuing debate ] of the origins of the legislation in question. Regardless of the details, this overview from the ADL provides a helpful perspective on the nature of "faith based" initiatives:

The Faith-Based Initiative represents a dramatic shift in the way government funds social welfare services for our nation's most needy citizens. The design and implementation of the initiative raise serious and deeply troubling implications for the religious freedom of all Americans -- and the integrity of our nation's religious institutions.[ source: Anti Defamation League website ]

Whatever the current scope of "faith based" federal and state government funding [ two billion ? Ten billion ? Twenty ? ], the seismic nature of the shift in spending currently underway must be underscored. Here is a thumbnail sketch of the situation, from a May, 2005 Washington Post story:

Bush has pushed for increased funding for religion-based groups while proposing deep cuts for many traditional anti-poverty programs. The result is that many small church- and community-based social service programs are slowly assuming the lead role in the war on poverty once held by long-established community development organizations..... Bush's 2006 budget proposed slashing public housing subsidies, food stamps, energy assistance, community development, social services and community services block grants -- programs that for decades have constituted the federal anti-poverty fight....

At the same time, Bush's budget proposal for next year contemplates adding $385 million in new religion-based programs to this year's eventual total. The federal government awarded more than $2 billion in such grants in 2004 -- nearly double the amount awarded in 2003. Funding under the president's faith- and community-based initiative has gone up despite Congress's refusal to enact legislation that would allow faith-based groups to discriminate by religion when hiring staff, something Bush says should be allowed as long as they offer their services to people of all faiths and do not use federal money to proselytize. [ emphasis mine ]

There is a darker quality to this shift in federal funding - the move towards the federal funding of groups practicing religious discrimination* in hiring practices :

As Michael Hoover, in "The Stealth Presidency: George Bush and "Faith-Based" Government"   relates, the legal basis for government funded discriminatory hiring practices - on the basis of religious belief - were recently laid:

Lost amidst the media clamor over George W. Bush's U.S. Supreme Court appointment in early October was a New York federal court decision giving constitutional legitimacy to the president's scheme of "faith-based" government. Ruling in the case of Lown v Salvation Army, District Judge Sidney Stein (a Bill Clinton appointee) held that religious institutions are exempt from a section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibiting religious discrimination in personnel matters by organizations receiving federal funds. While Stein let go forward a part of the suit filed by employees of the Salvation Army alleging that the charity had specifically used government money for religious purposes, among the claims he dismissed was a charge by the plaintiffs that they had been forced from their jobs after refusing to divulge their religious beliefs (and, in one instance, the sexual orientation of co-workers). Lead plaintiff Anne Lown, who had worked for the Salvation Army for 24 years at the time she tendered her resignation, was Associate Director of the organization's Social Services for Children (SSC) program in New York City, a program that, according to court records, is 95% dependent upon federal funds.  

Moore's excellent article chronicles the recent history of how the explosion in "Faith Based" funding was propelled - quietly - by presidential decree:

Religious institutions have long been "contract" social-service providers in the United States. Few paid attention to a "Charitable Choice" section (Sec. 104) of the 1996 welfare bill signed into law by President Clinton easing grant-application restrictions for religious social service agencies. Upon inauguration in 2001, Bush took advantage of the opportunity this afforded to "fly below the radar" and promote partnerships between government and groups with religious aims and tactics. Using a strategy termed the "administrative presidency" by political scientist Richard Nathan, Bush employed an array of unilateral techniques. His initial executive orders (signed eight days after taking office) created a White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (FBCI), required that Departments of Labor, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, as well as the Attorney General’s Office, establish FBCI units (similar entities were later created at the Agency for International Development, the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, and Veterans Affairs, and the Small Business Administration), and directed that plans be developed to circumvent legal barriers to "faith-based" funding. Staffed by strategically-placed political appointees selected to rewrite grant procedures, eligibility rules, and operating regulations, FBCI centers have aggressively pursued the goal of making public funds available to faith-based organizations (FBOs) providing a variety of services, including adoption, day care, HIV care, and housing.

Now, as Moore goes on to detail how examples - favored by George W. Bush and the Christian right - on the alleged success of "Faith Based" teen drug addiction and prison rehabilitation programs are - well - a bit "truth challenged" ( or upheld by "faith based" social science that plays rather fast and loose with the facts ), readers might rightly wonder on the rapid national slide into a "faith based" unreality where metrics on the performance of such programs indicate general failure.

But, as has often seemed to be the case during George Bush's presidency - the American mind, be it left, right, center, whatever, is elsewhere.  So George W. Bush's recent ramping up of federal funds available for groups working to strengthen marriages ( but only for straight marriages ) gained astonishingly little public attention.

Perhaps Americans are simply becoming acclimated to the steady advance of "faith based" government ( "faith based" has become ubiquitious,  it seems, extending even to kindegarten.

That may indeed be the case, because a quick Google search on what some - only a few years ago -  may have considered a significant story reveals only 5 minor news sources covering the quintipled funds for the new anti-gay federal "faith based" marriage strengthening program.  Two of those sources identify themselves as Christian news services, two are gay news source, and the remaining source is the Online Journal.

Mainstream eyes were - it seems - far, far away, and this fact was almost certainly noticed by many on the Christian right and the gay activist community. These dual messages seemed quite clear : One, that the Christian right was free, via its partisans in the White and the Congress, to advance its program of supplanting the secular federal social programs with "faith based" efforts that can be discriminatory and even bigoted. Two, that the gay community, in its battles against anti-gay forces on the Christian right, was more or less alone.

However, Americans opposed to Christian theocratic government might do well to consider the implications of this statement from a Buzzflash interview with author and Talk To Action contributor Esther Kaplan :

Bush's faith-based initiative also privileges Christianity above all other religions. After sifting through every grant announcement I could get my hands on from Bush's faith-based offices, I couldn't find a single grant issued to a religious charity that wasn't Christian -- no Jewish charities, no Muslim charities, nothing. And when I spoke with Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, he confirmed that no direct federal grants from his program had gone to a non-Christian religious group. This kind of religious favoritism is exactly what the Constitution's establishment clause was put in place to prevent.

As I wrote last February, 2005, the pot of federal funds that in theory was open for applications from "faith based" agencies was in fact quite enormous - possibly up to $100 billion dollars - and puts Kaplan's confirmation from Jim Towey in a rather stark light : the actual scope of burgeoning "faith based" government is in all likelihood far outstripping the ability of reporters, writers, independent researchers, and the media overall to even get a general bearing on the situation.

To compound the situation, "faith based" programs seem to be accompanied by "faith based" accounting. Daniel Zwerdling, producer of two 2003 programs on the faith-based initiative, for Bill Moyers TV show, is quoted as saying :

"administration spokesmen say they can't break down how much money has gone so far to religious groups .. they claim they don't keep that information."

No. Accounting.

Oh my.

Faiths Based Myths Demolished [source] :

"Myth No. 1: Religious organizations [ prior to the "Faith Based Initiative" era which began with the inauguration of George W.Bush ] face substantial discrimination when competing for government grants and contracts." - NOT : "Before any changes were made by charitable-choice legislation or President Bush's faith-based initiatives, religious social service providers who wished to maintain a religious atmosphere or religious content in their programs -- and not all, perhaps not even most, wish to do this -- commonly did so openly and with no consequent problems with or interference from the government....

Myth No. 2: Religious congregations -- churches, synagogues, mosques -- are intensively involved in social service activity. The intensity of congregational involvement in social services varies greatly.... Most congregations engage in some social service of this kind, but only a tiny minority actively and intensively engage in such activity. Only 6 percent of congregations have a staff person devoting at least quarter time to social service projects. The median dollar amount spent by congregations directly in support of social service programs is about $1,200, which is about 3 percent of the median congregation's total budget. In the median congregation, only ten individuals do volunteer work connected with congregational social services." OUCH! - So stingy! I had no idea.

"Myth No. 3: Religious organizations are better than secular organizations at delivering social services. Although some studies have been made of religious organizations' effectiveness, there are very few systematic comparisons between religious and secular organizations doing similar kinds of work. From the studies we have, it appears that religious nursing homes, for example, might be somewhat more effective than secular nursing homes, but religious child care centers appear to be of lower quality than secular nonprofit alternatives.....In short, we have no basis for assuming that religious organizations in general are likely to be more effective than secular organizations at delivering social services. The most that could be said is that religious organizations may perform better in some arenas and worse in others.....

Myth No. 4: Religious organizations deliver services in a more holistic, personal way, focusing on deep transformation rather than short-term solutions. Recent research on the social services of churches, synagogues and mosques suggests congregations are actually more likely to engage in activities that address immediate, short-term needs than in programs requiring sustained involvement to meet longer-term goals. Housing, clothing and especially food projects are much more common than programs dealing with substance abuse, mentoring or job training. Fewer than 5 percent of congregations have programs in any of these latter areas. By comparison, 11 percent have clothing projects, 18 percent have housing or shelter projects and 33 percent have food-related projects. Eight percent of congregations report providing services to homeless people, although there is substantial overlap between this category of activity and the food, clothing and housing or shelter projects. Congregations certainly play an important role in many communities' social service systems, but their role is generally not that of providing holistic or transformational services. This pattern is found in every extant survey." [ from "Six Myths About Faith-Based Initiatives", by Mark Chavez[ Mark Chaves is a professor of sociology at the University of Arizona ]

*For an in depth look at the issue of "Faith Based" discrimination practices by organizations receiving federal funds, see The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy, from The Rockefeller Institute of Government, State University of New York

It was made very clear to Pagans early on that they were never going to be included in and 'faith-based' funding.

This 2003 Q&A session with Jim Towey revealed his reasoning for not giving any Pagan or Wiccan religious group funding:

Colby, from Centralia MO  writes:
Do you feel that Pagan faith based groups should be given the same considerations as any other group that seeks aid?

Jim Towey
I haven't run into a pagan faith-based group yet, much less a pagan group that cares for the poor! Once you make it clear to any applicant that public money must go to public purposes and can't be used to promote ideology, the fringe groups lose interest. Helping the poor is tough work and only those with loving hearts seem drawn to it.

So, Pagans are 'fringe groups', they do not care for the poor, and apparently they don't have 'loving hearts', which is not listed on any application sheet as a measurable quality.

This started a firestorm of outrage in the Pagan community. A follow-up article in the Atlantic Journal-Constitution addressed this, and many of the flaws inherent in the 'faith-based' plans:

. James Towey runs the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which was created by President Bush to expand federal funding opportunities for churches and religious groups that deliver social services to disadvantaged citizens. During an Internet chat last month, Towey was asked whether pagans -- a group that includes Wiccans and Druids -- would get the same consideration from his office as mainstream Christian denominations.

"I haven't run into a pagan faith-based group yet, much less a pagan group that cares for the poor!" was Towey's emphatic reply.

Outraged, pagan groups are demanding an apology. As evidence of their compassion, they point to food drives they've organized during annual Pagan Pride Day celebrations as well as donations to homeless and battered women's shelters, local food banks and the American Red Cross.

Towey's remark underscores the problems inherent in the president's program and a similar plan being pushed in Georgia by Gov. Sonny Perdue. Both men have said government agencies discriminate against civic-minded religious groups, but there's little evidence to support that claim.

Overall, faith-based groups sponsor more than two-thirds of the nation's federally funded elderly housing projects. Christian-centered organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity and Lutheran Services of America, for years have done exemplary work and received sizable government funding.

The arrangement works because of the explicit understanding that these groups will stick to their respective missions without proselytizing their clients.

Given those historical precedents, it's unclear what the president and governor's faith-based initiatives hope to accomplish except, perhaps, to extend the influence of a specific religious creed in the public square.

That is exactly what is happening.

More articles about this incident:

Washington Post

Look Smart article

Americans United response

by Lorie Johnson on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 10:43:24 AM EST

For that information. What seems truly bizzare to me about Towey's office, his comments, and the whgole "faith based" enterprise is how few in the media or the public seem to be paying attention to this brazen promotion of specific Christian groups to the exclusion - it seems - of all of religious faiths and even many groups within Christianity.

It's bizarre :

  1. Contracts go exclusively to Christian  groups.

  2. Minimal recordkeeping of how the money is used, or whether it is effective or not.

So - nakedly partisan, unaccountable, and some cases probably ineffective as well.

One side effect of this - possibly intentional - may be to destroy American faith in government.  

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 12:30:46 PM EST

Is there any place where we can find out the current state of who is getting this money? Esther's report dates to late '04- have things changed since then?

I would like to see a current reference to who has and who does not have faith based funding. A blogger friend of mine wants to also do a report on this, so we're both looking for recent resources to tap to find out if it's still a Christian only club.

I did find this article from January with an interesting sidebar quote from Rep. Bobby Scott (state not mentioned) about the hiring practices of these faith-based groups:

"If a policy that 'we don't hire Catholics, Jews or Muslims' offends you, I don't have to explain to you what's wrong with the faith-based initiative."

And I am going to tap a widely used group of people on a national level Pagan Clergy community to see if they've heard of any of their peers receiving any faith-based funds.

So, my research continues.

You wrote:

"One side effect of this - possibly intentional - may be to destroy American faith in government."

No, the intention is to destroy the government itself- by undermining and de-funding its agencies and replacing them with faith-based agencies who will step into place once the theocratic coup is complete. They're 'drowning' the government, and destroying its integrity.

by Lorie Johnson on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 01:17:51 PM EST

I agree - that is the end goal. I should have phrased that differently.

As far as sources - I don't know. But if you go to that story I posted on this on the Daily Kos back in January 2005 ( linked on my TTA story ) you'll find some interesting material to mine - possible leads - in the discussion thread, towards the very end.

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Feb 20, 2006 at 03:40:44 PM EST

I too think that these $500 Million for federal initiatives' investment is unnecessary. I would rather like a college writing service being hired and getting them to work on everything, as it would be a much better solution to everything else.

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