WASHINGTON - August 17 - A new study of the "faith-based" initiative raises troubling questions about the Bush administration's disregard for constitutional and civil rights protections, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The report issued today by the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy lists the many executive actions President George W. Bush has taken to fund a wide range of religion-based social services. The sweeping changes in federal policy, the report indicates, have come without congressional authorization.
The report by the Roundtable, which is a project of the Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany, N.Y., reveals that religious groups "are now involved in government-encouraged activities ranging from building strip malls for economic improvement to promoting child car seats."
Americans United, which has spearheaded opposition to the faith-based initiative, said the report is a useful, but alarming, overview of the administration's actions on this issue.
"The report shows an administration obsessed with seeking faith-based solutions for almost everything," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "I am deeply troubled that vital constitutional and civil rights protections are being shoved aside as the faith-based crusade advances."
Bush unveiled the faith-based initiative soon after taking office, but it stalled in Congress due to constitutional and civil rights concerns. To circumvent Congress, Bush issued executive orders to implement administratively as much of the proposal as possible.
The Roundtable report studies the numerous federal agencies that are now offering public dollars to churches and other religion-based social service providers and finds that new regulations created under the faith-based initiative "mark a major shift in the constitutional separation of church and state."
In particular, the research notes that the regulatory changes "encompass two reversals of longstanding policy on Constitutional interpretation. The federal government now allows faith-based groups receiving federal funds to consider religion when employing staff, and to build and renovate structures used for both social services and religious worship."
Said AU's Lynn, "The faith-based initiative is bad policy on numerous fronts. Taxpayers should never be forced to pay for the building or renovating of houses of worship. And the federal government should never subsidize groups that engage in employment discrimination."
The report notes that in May the administration issued an "incomplete yet revealing tally of grants" to faith-based and community organizations at a number of federal agencies. The administration's figures, the report says, "indicate a significant increase in the availability of federal funding to faith-based social service providers."
To see the full report, visit the Roundtable's website at http://www.religionandsocialpolicy.org/.