President to Propose New Faith-Based Initiative in State of the Union; ACLU Says Plan Would Jeopardize Quality of Care for Neediest Americans

January 28, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Responding to reports that the President’s State of the Union address tonight will include a request for Congress to fund a new voucher program for religious social service providers, the American Civil Liberties Union today said that the White House plan 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 being pushed through by executive fiat,” 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 media today is reporting that the President will use tonight’s State of the Union address to announce an expansion of his faith-based initiative 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, the ACLU said, is just another step to implement the President’s faith-based legislative agenda, which was rejected by Congress last year. Since that defeat, the White House has been pushing the faith-based plan – otherwise known as government-funded religion – through unilateral executive action. Last month, 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.

And, just last week, the New York Times reported on its front page a new proposed rule change for the Department of Housing and Urban Development 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. Two weeks ago, he extolled the virtues of tolerance and diversity, yet submitted a brief to the Supreme Court opposing affirmative action,” Anders said. “Today he’s framing his proposal in the language of ‘religious freedom,’ yet it really only encourages discrimination and substandard health care.”

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