In the waning days of his administration, President Bush is continuing his campaign to allow taxpayer funds to be used for religious discrimination. His “faith-based initiatives” grant religious social service providers - who have long provided admirable and essential services to America’s communities - the right to discriminate, proselytize and play by different rules than other charities while spending tax dollars.
The next administration must address the many problems that exist under the program’s current design. Under Bush’s program, for example, social workers, psychologists, counselors and others seeking to work in tax-funded social service programs can be denied jobs solely because of their faith.
Supporting the good work of faith-based social service providers should not mean abandoning basic American ideals. We must not allow the vital services of faith-based groups to become co-opted by the administration as mere government-funded religion.
The government can and does work collaboratively with faith-based organizations. It has long granted tax dollars to religious social service providers that agree not to discriminate in hiring or providing services, and that operate their social services in a secular manner. These types of religiously affiliated charities do not deny people employment based on faith, nor do they mix religious activity in with their government-funded services.
§ Taxpayer dollars must not fund discrimination. When using their own funds, religious organizations have the right to choose their employees on the basis of religion or religious beliefs. But they must not be allowed to do so with taxpayer dollars. Federally funded organizations must respect the civil rights of all Americans, not gut them.
§ Faith is a matter that is best left to individuals, their families and religious communities. All Americans deserve individual religious freedom, including the right to receive professional social services without being subjected to attempts at religious conversion.
§ Government should stay out of religion. The government should not be in the business of choosing to fund one religion over another. Religious institutions, which currently enjoy a great amount of independence from the government, will become "hired hands" of the state, trading autonomy for government funds. The government invariably regulates who and what it funds - money almost always comes with strings attached.
§ These proposals endanger people who are in serious need of help. We should not remove federal rules and licensing requirements for religious programs administering professional social services. The federal government should not fund unqualified groups to provide mental health services. We need these guidelines to protect the people who most need help. Giving religious groups a special exemption just doesn’t make sense.