ACLU Says Taxpayer-Funded Faith-Based Drug Treatment Would Jeopardize Quality of Care for Neediest Americans

February 27, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today told lawmakers that a new voucher program for religious social service providers, announced last month in the State of the Union address, would dramatically diminish the quality of care for beneficiaries.

“”By all accounts, this is just another plank in the President’s unpopular faith-based initiative,”” said Christopher Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “”What’s worse though is that this new scheme would force the neediest Americans to potentially submit to substandard treatment by unlicensed amateurs.””

The voucher program is set for consideration today in front of the House Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources Subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee. Reportedly, the new plan fits neatly into the President’s faith-based initiative by allowing states to provide vouchers redeemable at religious providers to people seeking drug or alcohol treatment. These religious providers would apparently be immune from all licensing or quality of treatment standards.

It seems likely, the ACLU said, that the program would also allow these religious organizations to discriminate based on religion in their hiring – and that it would countenance treatments based solely on religious beliefs, regardless of the faith of the patient.

This new plan is just another step to implement the President’s faith-based legislative agenda, which was rejected by Congress last year, the ACLU said. Since that defeat, the White House has been pushing the faith-based plan – otherwise known as government-funded religion – through unilateral executive action. Late last year, the President signed an executive order allowing taxpayer-funded religious organizations to discriminate in their hiring and the provision of services, which has long been the centerpiece of the Bush faith-based plan.

In January, the New York Times reported on its front page a new proposed rule change for the Department of Health and Human Services to allow federal dollars to finance the bricks-and-mortar construction of religious buildings. According to follow-up reports, the general counsel for the agency acknowledged that the rule change would allow, for example, a church to build a new annex that would ostensibly be used 50 percent of the time for secular purposes, to have 50 percent of its construction costs be paid with taxpayer money.

The President’s proposal is indicative of a larger divide between White House rhetoric and action, the ACLU said.

“”The President once again is turning the language of civil rights on its head,”” Anders said. “”He’s framed this proposal in the language of ‘religious freedom,’ yet it really only encourages discrimination and substandard health care.””

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