President Bush's "faith-based" initiative has provoked concerns and reservations from editorial writers, pundits and prominent leaders from across the religious and political spectrum since its introduction in January. Here are some of the comments:
"The establishment of an office to pump federal money into religious charities has brought a uniform reaction from across the spectrum of churches and civil libertarian organizations, left to right. The only problem for the president's plan is that most of that response has been negative."
Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of Scripps Howard News Service, in a March 5 column
Creating 'Impotent Gullivers'
"Without careful guarantees that Bush has yet to provide, the potential for problems is great. The move could undercut the 200-year-old separation of church and state that is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. And it could tie down religious charities like impotent Gullivers in the myriad strings of government red tape."
USA Today, Jan. 30 editorial
Forced To Pray?
"Last year [Bush administration official Stephen Goldsmith] suggested that a homeless shelter receiving federal funds should not be prevented from asking recipients to pray once a day. He and others say that this would be acceptable as long as people in need of shelter have other shelters they can turn to that do not have a religious component. That may seem a small step, but it could invite the kind of abuses the First Amendment is meant to prohibit."
New York Times, Jan. 30 editorial
"Of course, taxpayer money should never be used to let a religion convert people or end up boosting a religion. And grants for social work should be given neutrally to both religious and secular groups. Bush needs to convince Americans he can uphold such safeguards. If not, then this noble experiment needs a fresh look."
Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 29 editorial
Over My Cold Dead Body
"The only way I would take government funding is over my very cold dead body. We simply don't like the government. We don't like their interference and all their nonsense you can't do this, you can't do that."
Sister Connie Driscoll, head of a 125-bed shelter for women and children in Chicago, Jan. 28 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"What concerns me is that religious organizations might be tempted, or forced, to dilute their life-transforming message in order to get government subsidies, thus negating the primary reason for their success. They also risk becoming an appendage of the party in power that financially smiles upon them."
Cal Thomas, nationally syndicated columnist, Jan. 31
"Do Muslim and Hindu religious organizations here get to give out government money for charitable causes that they choose? I hope not, but then, I hope the Catholics, the Baptists, the Episcopalians and the Methodists don't either, because I don't want to help them enlist converts with my money."
Andy Rooney, syndicated columnist and "60 Minutes" commentator, Feb. 3
Brushing Aside Separation
"At one point, Dr. [Murray] Friedman and I raised the possibility of faith-based, government-funded programs doing great damage to the historic separation of church and state. Mr. Bush quickly brushed aside our concerns, stating that he did not see this as any kind of threat to church-state issues....[I]f the new commitment to 'faith-based initiatives' threatens the wall of separation, then it will be our responsibility as Baptist Christians to speak a prophetic word of protest."
The Rev. Roger A. Paynter, senior pastor of Austin's First Baptist Church, writing in the Baptist Joint Committee's Jan. 24 Report From The Capital. (Paynter's church hosted Bush's first "faith-based" forum after the election.)
Been There, Done That
" [T]hen, of course, there is one of Bush's faves: Let's use the churches to provide social services. That is not, actually, a totally terrible idea, except that it's unconstitutional and guaranteed to get screwed up in the execution. We've already tried it here in the National Laboratory for Bad Government aka Texas and that's what we learned."
Molly Ivins, a nationally syndicated columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Feb. 1
A Threat Of Hostility
"Youth, elders, the homeless, women seeking reproductive counseling and individuals who seek treatment for alcohol or drug abuse all face a very real threat that services will be offered in an unfriendly and hostile setting. For generations, churches, synagogues and other faith institutions have worked wonders for people from all walks of life. But our nation's founders never envisioned that...government would 'establish' churches or synagogues through funding or through other formal relationships."
Elizabeth Toledo, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Feb. 6
Inviting Sectarian Competition
"The idea of America's religious groups fighting over the limited public money to be made available takes us down the road towards the kind of sectarian competition that has torn so many nations apart, and which our separation of church and state has spared us."
Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Jan. 29
Interchanging Cross And Flag
"The church must never give up its reign. The cross and the flag should never interchange. When the government and the church get too close, neither one can see Jesus."
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, in a sermon to the Ebenezer AME Church in Washington, D.C., Feb. 5
Potential For Trouble
"It may be an appealing notion to some to speak of church groups delivering faith-based help on every street corner, in competition with 'secular' agencies. But the potential for trouble is great.... The religious community should be cautious about taking government money."
National Catholic Reporter, Feb. 9 editorial
"Charities will have to prove they are not using government funds for proselytizing and other exclusively religious activities. That means government regulators will be snooping through their books, checking for compliance. The potential for government meddling is great.... Officials of these charities may end up spending more time reading the Federal Register than the Bible."
Michael Tanner, Cato Institute, in a Feb. 6 Washington Times column
A Difficult Task
"President Bush will find it easier to name the prime minister of Kyrgystan (Amangeldi Muraliev) than to tell who is qualified to haul tax dollars out of his Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives."
Roland Nethaway, senior editor, Waco (Texas) Tribune-Herald, Feb. 24
Three Strikes, You're Out
"This proposal will make religious programs less effective, knock holes in the wall separating church and state and make prophetic religion beholden to government control."
The Rev. J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, Feb. 7 Report From The Capital
Mucking About In Religion
"There is a good reason that the United States contains such a vast diversity of religions and the greatest religious liberty known to the world. In our nation, government has been forbidden to muck about in religion. It should stay that way."
Charles Levendosky, columnist and editorial page editor, Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, Feb. 7
Discovering The Federal Fist
"Faith-based groups that have so far escaped the outstretched hand of the federal government will discover that it is a federal fist."
Terrence Scanlon, president of the Capital Research Center, quoted in The Washington Post, Feb. 17
Reinforcing The Wall
"I think there has to be a strong wall, a solid wall, between church and state. I don't want to see religious groups out trying to convert or proselytize with federal dollars."
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), member of Congress and civil rights leader, quoted in the Jan. 30 Atlanta Journal Constitution
A Real Pandora's Box
"I really don't know what to do. But this thing could be a real Pandora's box. And what seems to be such a great initiative can rise up to bite the organizations as well as the federal government. And I'm a little concerned about it, frankly."
Pat Robertson, TV preacher and president of the Christian Coalition, on the Feb. 21 "700 Club"
Not With A 10-Foot Pole
"As for me and my house, I would not touch the money with the proverbial 10-foot pole."
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in a March 2001 interview with beliefnet.com
Shifting The Burden
"It's wonderful when political leaders encourage the private sector to get involved in good works. But to suggest that the government should shift part of its welfare burden to churches, through tax-supported subsidies, is folly. Who will do due diligence on thousands of tiny projects to ensure that religion and government stay separate? Who will keep my church, or any other, from slipping federal funds from one pocket to another?"
Forrest Church, senior minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in Manhattan, in a Dec. 25 New York Times column
The New Washington Honey-Pot?
"The risk here is that federal funding will spawn a cottage industry of would-be providers who lack proven records of commitment and success. The claim that faith-based, non-governmental groups are more connected to those in need will ring hollow if the feds don't demand accountability from those who get the bucks. The reservoir of compassion Bush envisions cannot become one more Washington honey-pot."
Chicago Tribune, Jan. 31 editorial
"While there is no doubt Bush believes religious charities which do much good work already will be even stronger champions of the needy if federally funded, what he intends to do would obliterate the Constitution's church-state separation. That's what protects us from government interference in religious matters."
Des Moines Register, Jan. 31 editorial
Not For All The Money In The World
"The questions of whose faith and whose ideas naturally raise the constitutional issue of separation of church and state.... All the money in the world is not worth crossing the line in a Constitution that protects religious freedom by requiring government and faith to keep their distance."
The Tennessean, Feb. 1 editorial
Entangling Church And State
"The president's intentions in wanting to increase private involvement with charitable activities are admirable. But his new White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives will have the unintended result of so entangling church and state as to regulate the free exercise of religion."
Nat Hentoff, nationally syndicated columnist, Feb. 13