April 24, 2001

White House Official Addresses Ithacans

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A White House official from the new Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives spoke to a large audience yesterday in Anabel Taylor Hall regarding the Bush administration’s stance on faith-based charity organizations.

The Bush administration has agreed to grant government funds to faith-based charity organizations in an effort to help alleviate poverty.

Reverend Mark Scott, associate director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives described the merits of parceling federal funds to religious organizations, in a forum sponsored by the Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy (CRESP), Area Congregations Together (ACT) and the Ithaca Journal.

The adoption of faith-based charity initiatives have called into question the establishment of requirements for charity aid, and the sacrosanct separation of church and state.

Scott’s opening remarks referred to Bush’s inaugural address — part of which expressed concern with improving sub-standard social conditions in America.

Referring to the new White House office, Scott said, “This office is coming into existence in recognition of something that has been going on in our country for a really long time.”

Scott cited numerous developments that he considered crucial to the establishment and sustenance of the Office of Faith-based Initiatives.

“The first [development] was that the President signed an executive order that brought the Office into existence. The second is that he signed another executive order that created centers for faith-based and community initiatives in five [government] agencies: Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Department of Education, Department of Labor and the Department of Justice,” he explained.

Scott went on to describe a third development, “the creation of a compassionate capital fund that will be a public-private partnership that aims to work on doing demonstration projects that demonstrate the efficacy of faith-based projects dealing with mentoring prisoners and after-school programs,” he said.

“The last thing is Congress. Congress has facilitated bipartisan legislation involving charitable giving, tax incentives and the expansion of existing charitable choice legislation that has been on the books since 1996.”

Adam Crouch ’04, president of the Cornell Civil Liberties Union, was a harsh critic of Scott’s words.

“There is a paradox that you run into when you consider giving money to religious organizations,” Crouch said.

“On the one hand, government money being used to assist proselytizing and recruitment is a clear violation of the separation of church and state. On the other hand, the strings that have to be attached to the government money would corrupt the missions of these organizations and prevent them from doing what they do best,” he said.

Scott’s speech described how the faith-based initiatives would help bring faith, community, and the nation together. He stressed the significant role of faith-based charitable organizations in forging relationships with local communities, in an effort to help the downtrodden and the poverty-stricken.

“I respect Scott’s honesty, but all I’ve heard regarding these faith-based initiatives is mostly from a Christian understanding. I want to hear others’ opinions. What do Muslims or atheists feel?” asked Larry Roberts, an audience member and Ithaca resident.

Scott emphasized that there would not be any bias involved in formulating which religious organizations would be granted funds.

“There is no list,” Scott said. “I’m Christian, and that’s why there may be a Christian tone to my remarks, but I assure you there will never be a list of religious organizations. This is an effort to build diversity and to hear from many people in the community.”

However, many disagreed with Scott’s remarks.

Elizabeth Lorina ’04, was concerned with the potential for discrimination involved with the faith-based initiatives.

“I find it doubtful that the Native American Church — for whom peyote is as important as the Bible is to Christianity — will receive government funds that promote the use and dispersion of peyote, which is a hallucinogenic,” Lorina said.

Susan Kehrli, a resident of Ithaca, was unsettled by the nature of the discussion.

“My concern is that it is difficult in Ithaca — after twenty years of experience in human services — to talk about faith-based initiatives and the effectiveness faith can have in human service,” Kehrli said.

In reference to the night’s event, Anke Wessels, director of CRESP, said, “All in all, things went as planned. It was an effective forum. There was a lot of time for questions, which is important. This is what we intended.”

Archived article by Sai Pidatala