President Bush Puts Forward Final Installment of Faith-Based Plan, ACLU Opposes Tax-Payer Funded Religious Discrimination

September 22, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Responding to reports that President Bush will soon unveil the final installment of its controversial faith-based initiative, the American Civil Liberties Union today reiterated its concern at the unilateral way in which the White House is pushing its agenda – which was rejected by Congress earlier this year – and warned that the new proposals would remove the last barriers against government funded religion.

“The White House had its hat handed to it in Congress and is now trying to use the regulatory process to steamroll through its unpopular plan to allow federally funded religious groups to discriminate in hiring and to divert federal dollars to religious activities,” said Christopher E. Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel.

“These changes are the most sweeping affirmation of tax-funded religion and religious discrimination since the President took office,” Anders added. “Not only is this bad public policy generally, it will – by changing the rules of the game for the Departments of Labor, Veterans’ Affairs and Education – harm the most defenseless among us, including school-age children, the homeless, America’s veterans and single-parent families.”

The White House announced today that it has finalized four regulatory changes initially proposed in December 2002 by the President in Philadelphia and proposed several other revisions. Among these final regulations is one that permits Housing and Urban Development funds to go to the purchase, construction and upkeep of religious buildings, so long as they are not the denomination’s “principle place of worship.” For instance, as described, the guidelines would permit tax dollars to go to the upkeep of a meeting hall in which bible study is held six days out of seven.

The other final regulations permit government-funded discrimination at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) program.

Among the proposed rules – which impact the Department of Justice and Department of Education – is one that will take federal job training money designated for the unemployed to be used for religious training rather than vocational training. Another allows the Attorney General and Justice Department to disburse seized assets to religious organizations. Already funds have been earmarked for an evangelical group in Brooklyn, IL.

These changes serve to highlight the White House’s notable lack of success in pushing through its agenda for government-funded religion. The original legislative vehicle for the White House’s plan only managed to garner enough votes for passage after all mention of religious discrimination in the workplace was stripped from the bill. As it now stands, the “faith-based” bill is only a series of tax breaks to encourage charitable giving.

“The President’s changes open the door further to the Administration picking and choosing which religions to fund with tax dollars and then allows those religions to deny federally funded jobs to people of the wrong religion or who practice the right religion the wrong way,” Anders said.

For more on the ACLU’s position on the faith-based initiative, go to:

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