The Rev. Sun Myung Moon was an early supporter of President George W. Bush’s “faith-based” initiative.
The founder of the controversial Unification Church gave the initiative an important boost in April of 2001, when the proposal was floundering in Congress. A Moon front group promoted a “faith-based summit” sponsored by congressional Republicans, beaming it via satellite from Washington, D.C., to 45 cities.
It now appears that Moon is being handsomely rewarded for his efforts. The San Francisco Chronicle reported last month that Moon’s followers have received federal faith-based funding to run marriage seminars and promote abstinence among teenagers.
Oddly enough, TV preacher Pat Robertson was one of the first critics to warn that this might happen. On Feb. 20, 2001, he told viewers of his “700 Club” that faith-based funding could become “a real Pandora’s box” and that controversial groups might get funded. Robertson even mentioned “the Moonies” by name.
But then a funny thing happened: The Bush administration arranged for a Robertson charity, Operation Blessing, to receive a half-million-dollar grant. Robertson hasn’t uttered a critical word about the initiative since.
Nor is he likely to, even though one of Robertson’s fears has come to pass. A religious group with highly unorthodox beliefs, whose leader claims to be the messiah, is getting tax aid – and Robertson can’t say a thing about it. He surrendered his right to complain the day he signed that government check.
Federal funding for Moon is outrageous – but in many ways it was inevitable. A core principle of our Constitution is that government may not play favorites among religions. Benefits and subsidies given to one must be available to all. It’s no surprise that the Unification Church wants its slice of the pie.
The faith-based initiative is flawed for many reasons, but this incident cuts to the core of one problem that is often glossed over by initiative boosters: What happens when public aid goes to groups whose views are troubling to many?
Moon’s views on marriage and human sexuality are controversial, to be charitable. Does it serve the public interest to allow an organization whose founder simultaneously marries thousands of couples (many of them near strangers) to host healthy marriage seminars? What does society gain when groups tied to the vociferously anti-gay Moon get federal support to teach impressionable teens about sex?
Moon and Robertson are multi-millionaires. They built their religious empires without taxpayer subsidies, and they should maintain them that way.
Like all religious leaders, Moon and Robertson have the right to believe controversial things. Let them use their own money to pay for spreading those views. Passing the collection plate to the taxpayer is unconscionable.
Pass It On!
A new poll of American attitudes toward church-state separation reveals some troubling data.
The poll, conducted by a Virginia nonprofit, the Council for America’s First Freedom, found that 49 percent of respondents believe that separation of church and state does not need to be maintained or has been interpreted too strictly.
Equally alarming, a majority of Americans, 53 percent, do not know that the Constitution protects religious liberty. Only 47 percent knew that religious freedom is found in the First Amendment. Thirty-two percent thought it emanates from the Declaration of Independence, and 9 percent said the Ten Commandments!
When misinformation like this is so widespread, is it any wonder that the American people appear to be falling under the sway of Religious Right propaganda blasting church-state separation?
At the same time, the poll shows that Americans truly value religious liberty. Fifty-two percent ranked religious freedom above other rights found in the First Amendment.
Looked at side by side, these results are perplexing: Americans treasure their religious liberty, but they don’t see separation of church and state as essential to protecting it. This is discouraging, to say the least.
The fact is, the religious liberty Americans value would not have been possible without separation of church and state. Church-state separation has been a great boon to religion in America. Because the government does not meddle in the affairs of religion, faith groups have been free to grow and prosper. The incredible diversity of religion in America is a testament to this.
But that message is not getting through – and it must if the wall of separation is to survive.
To help set the record straight, Americans United has produced a new brochure that explains how meaningful religious liberty cannot survive without separation of church and state. Titled “America’s Legacy of Religious Liberty: Pass It On,” the brochure uses clear, non-legalistic language to portray church-state separation as the protector, not the enemy, of religious liberty.
We hope to distribute this brochure widely. Americans United members and supporters can do their part by helping out. Order a batch and disseminate them widely. Give them to your friends and neighbors and to clergy, teachers, elected officials, news media representatives or anyone else who might benefit from it.
Copies of “America’s Legacy of Religious Liberty: Pass It On” are 25 cents each or five for a dollar. Send requests to: Americans United, 518 C St., N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002.
America’s legacy of religious liberty would not have been possible without church-state separation. Help AU spread the word.