Questions Of Faith
Published: Feb 11 2003
For Reporters Covering Bush's Faith-Based
|New York-based Russ Baker is an award-winning
journalist who covers politics and
Perhaps it was appropriate that President
Bush chose Nashville’s Opryland on February 10 to deliver his sermon
on why taxpayer money ought to be given to religious groups. A
cultural shrine to musical laments about unfaithfulness only
underlines the president’s breaking of faith -- with the
Jeffersonian creed separating church from state.
Bush’s benign-sounding new executive order banning
"discrimination" against faith-based charities in the distribution
of federal social service grants and building monies will surely
play well in the first round of opinion polls -- especially among
members of his right-wing religious constituency, the footsoldiers
of the GOP.
|"What objective evidence leads you to think
that religious groups, despite their rhetoric of compassion,
are particularly suited to improving the nation’s moral
But are mainstream journalists prepared to ask the tough
questions that will expose the dangers inherent in this politically
motivated initiative -- even at the risk of offending powerful
leaders of organized religion? For those with the requisite courage,
here are some suggestions:
In his speech Monday, Bush declared that "[G]overnments can and
should support effective social services provided by religious
people, so long as they work and as long as those services go to
anyone in need, regardless of their faith."
Mr. President, how WOULD they work? Who would police them? And
what’s your definition of religious groups? I’m assuming you don’t
want to make selections, so I guess you’re good with taxpayer money
being used by the Raelians and L. Ron Hubbard’s Church of
Scientology, the Hare Krishna, and so on?
Bush pressed on: "And when government gives that support, it is
equally important that faith-based institutions should not be forced
to change the character or compromise their prophetic role."
Mr. President, are you saying that taxpayer money should go to
programs that -- because of the sponsoring religion’s beliefs --
discriminate against gays, women, ethnic groups, other religions in
hiring? (The Salvation Army won’t hire gays, for example.)
Bush: "I think the charities helping the needy, it should not
matter if there is a rabbi on the board, or a cross on the wall, or
crescent on the wall, or religious commitment in the charter."
Mr. President, how about what they teach? I’m guessing you
would not want the public’s money being handed to a madrassa that
implicitly encourages terrorism, as many of these Muslim schools do
in Pakistan, for example. Whom do you have in mind to make these
Bush continued: "It's been said that 11:00 a.m. on Sunday is the
most segregated hour in America."
Mr. President, history shows that antebellum preachers in the
South supported slavery until the very end. You yourself, while
praising a few local efforts, acknowledge that America’s churches
today lag behind businesses and the military in erasing racial
barriers. The Roman Catholic Church in the United States is in
disarray over allegations of endemic child abuse. What objective
evidence leads you to think that religious groups, despite their
rhetoric of compassion, are particularly suited to improving the
nation’s moral fabric?
Bush spoke further: "We created faith-based offices in key
Cabinet departments to ensure that faith-based groups get equal
treatment and fair access to government funds."
Mr. President, are you saying that taxpayer funds are
financing lobbying operations established within the agencies they
are seeking to influence?
And Mr. President: What is all this going to cost taxpayers? What
effect will it have on reducing funding to highly-skilled,
effective, secular social services agencies? And, finally, exactly
how will this improve social services, rather than just benefiting
religious groups? Did you know that the Salvation Army already gets
around $1.5 billion a year in donations? How much do you intend to
add to that?
Oh, and one more thing: Can you explain, in your own words, the
concept of separation of church and state? Are you for eliminating