Earlier this month, the Boston Globe published a four part editorial series on President Bush’s Faith Based Initiative and its implications for American politics and foreign aid. The Faith Based Initiative, launched on January 29, 2001, explicitly includes faith-based organizations as recipients of federal aid. In a written statement, Bush explained that he would start this program “in order to help the Federal Government coordinate a national effort to expand opportunities for faith-based and other community organizations and to strengthen their capacity to better meet social needs in America’s communities.”
The Faith Based Initiative allows faith-based organizations to compete with secular organizations in order to receive federal funds. Bush’s position states that both “private and charitable community groups, including religious ones, should have the fullest opportunity permitted by law to compete on a level playing field, so long as they achieve valid public purposes, such as curbing crime, conquering addiction, strengthening families and neighborhoods, and overcoming poverty. This delivery of social services must be results oriented and should value the bedrock principles of pluralism, nondiscrimination, evenhandedness, and neutrality.” There is no wording in the statement to suggest that the sacred separation of church and state has been violated.
In explaining the reasoning behind the Faith Based Initiative, James Towey, the former head of the White House’s faith-based office said that “there were pockets of extreme hostility to faith-based organizations. . . . We wanted to see the new groups have a chance.” In giving new groups a chance, the Initiative opened up funds to groups that had been historically discriminated against.
The Boston Globe believes differently, however. They accuse religious charitable organizations of using federal funds for “unrestricted proselytizing” and believing that “no rules apply” to them. The Globe also asserts that their “research found that, in the absence of clear standards such as prohibition on running government programs where services are delivered, religious groups feel free to ask recipients to pray, discuss their spiritual needs and attend services.” The Globe is basically accusing faith-based organizations of exchanging aid for conversions. These charges are not only broad and unproven, they are also unfounded. Most groups offer aid in the form of clean water, healthy food and health care — not religion. If the recipients of the aid see religiosity in these actions, the group is not at fault. Religious organizations are answering God’s call to help the poor; they are going to continue that work regardless of where the funds are coming from.
The assertion that this level of faith-based aid crosses the boundary between church and state is fallacious. AIDS orphans are actually not very concerned with American politics; instead they are focused on figuring out where their next meal is going to come from. If government and secular organizations did half the work that religious charities do, then maybe this wouldn’t even be an issue. Faith-based organizations have a long tradition of providing social services, and the government should fund the institutions that are doing good work, regardless of U.S. political controversies. When it comes down to it, someone’s got to help the poor: if the government can’t handle it, the church will.
The First Amendment of the Constitution states that: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” First of all, the Faith Based Initiative is not a law, it’s an executive order. No law has been made. Second, the Faith Based Initiative does not establish any one religion. All religious charities can apply for the same federal grants. Although most of the charities that have received aid are Christian in ideology, there have been no reports of discrimination in funding. There are just more Christian charities, especially international ones, than there are Jewish or Muslim or other religious charity organizations. Third, the Faith Based Initiative does not prohibit the free exercise of any religion. If the recipients of aid are attracted to the religion of the providers, perhaps it is because they see something compelling in the lives of the aid workers. The Faith Based Initiative does not in any way violate the First Amendment as alleged by The Boston Globe.
Accusations continued to fly in The Globe’s four part series. The small-sightedness of the press and liberal officials is disheartening to say the least. “Proselytizing,” “cronyism,” “discrimination” and other destructive terms are being thrown at religious organizations and the Bush administration. What The Globe and others are forgetting, however, are the real victims in all of this: the poor. Should the poor suffer because of America’s political infighting? Shouldn’t meeting the objectives of U.S. foreign assistance with efficiency and compassion take precedence over ideological squabbles? Don’t the world’s poor deserve the best from all parts of American society? If some organizations have found a way through this mudslinging mess, good for them. The government should let them do what they do best — help people — without imposing undue stipulations and regulations on the work they do.
Just because The Boston Globe, one of the more liberal papers in the country, says that the Faith-Based Initiative is evil and corrupt, does not make it so. However, the hype surrounding The Globe articles, from online blogs to magazines such as Newsweek, tells a different story. Americans are so caught up on being politically correct and balanced that they’re not only overinterpreting the Constitution, but they’re hurting innocent people in the process. The bottom line is that secular organizations cannot handle the burden of worldwide poverty on their own, nor should they have to. The government has a partner and ally in the church, and Bush was not afraid to use that ally. Neither should the American people.
Hannah Stearns is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com. Paint the Town Red appears alternate Mondays.