ACLU Decries House Legislation that Earmarks $100 Million For Unproven Faith-Based Drug Treatment Programs

July 10, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Responding to House legislation that would earmark $100 million for largely faith-based drug treatment initiatives, the American Civil Liberties Union today warned that the lack of quality standards and licensing requirements could harm participants and violate civil liberties.

“Taxpayer funds should not go to programs whose treatment regimens do not have to stack up to clinical standards and whose practitioners need not be professionally licensed,” said Christopher E. Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Of course, drug treatment and education is essential and praiseworthy. But to give any private group a blank check, signed by taxpayers, to try any approach it feels might work is wrong and a waste of money.”

The religious drug treatment provision was slipped into the appropriations bill, currently pending in the House of Representatives, for the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. At a news conference today, John Walters, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, lauded such faith-based approaches and announced a new federal campaign titled “Faith – The Anti-Drug,” which urges religious leaders to incorporate White House messages about drug use into their sermons and religious education.

The money in the appropriations bill would be voucherized and parcelled out to religious substance abuse rehabilitation centers, which frequently dismiss clinically accepted treatment regimens in favor of religious teaching.

Although the ACLU has a long supported drug treatment programs, it opposes public funding for overtly religious addiction counseling and therapy. The ACLU’s Anders said that the lack of quality standards or limitations on how the tax dollars are spent would result in ineffective programs that also violate the civil liberties of drug treatment patients.

Religious treatment facilities entered the public spotlight earlier this year with the President’s State of the Union address, in which he pledged $600 million over three years to expand treatment options. The set-aside announced today is part of that presidential pledge.

Recipients of the funds could include groups such as the Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based Healing Place Church, which uses only religious criteria when employing addiction counselors, and the evangelical Teen Challenge, which preaches conversion to fundamentalist Christianity as a treatment for drug addiction. In fact, the head of Teen Challenge made waves in 2001 when he told Congress that the Jews in his program that had converted to Christianity had become “completed Jews” when they embraced his brand of the faith.

Notably, officials at both the Healing Place Church and Teen Challenge were honored guests at the State of the Union address earlier this year.

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