'Faith-Based' Initiative Undercuts Constitution, Lynn Tells House Panel

President George W. Bush's "faith-based" initiative threatens the constitutional separation of church and state by ushering in a new era of government-supported religion, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn told a congressional subcommittee March 23.

Testifying before the House Sub­committee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources, Lynn urged members of Congress to oppose Bush's efforts to expand his faith-based initiative.

"We continue to careen dangerously down the path of government-supported religion," Lynn said. "Congress has a duty to apply the brakes."

Lynn outlined several objections to the faith-based initiative, noting that it will require taxpayers to underwrite religious proselytism, foster job discrimination with taxpayer money and force the government to play favorites among religious groups.

Regarding religious proselytism, Lynn told the committee, "The president has repeatedly stated his desire to fund groups that permeate their programs with an all-encompassing religious element. In fact, he often argues that this religious component is what makes these programs successful. In light of this, claims by the administration that tax funds will not be used to promote the spread of religion ring hollow."

Lynn added that the initiative will further employment discrimination.

"Every poll I have seen shows that the American people do not believe faith-based groups should be able to take tax money and engage in discrimination when hiring staff to provide what are supposed to be non-religious services," he said. "They will not stand idly by while the nation's civil rights laws are placed on the chopping block."

Finally, Lynn warned that the funding plan is dangerous because it allows government to treat religious groups unequally.

"Nearly all of the money disbursed under 'faith-based' initiatives so far has gone to Christian groups, including one grant to TV preacher Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing," observed Lynn. "James Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Com­munity Initiatives, said last year that Wiccans are unlikely to get any aid because they are a 'fringe' group whose members lack 'loving hearts.' What is this, if not rank bigotry?"

Also testifying against the initiative was K. Hollyn Hollman of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. Hollman is also a member of Americans United's Board of Trustees.