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An expose of corruption in the
faith-based initiative program

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One of the main components of President Bush's compassionate conservatism philosophy is his faith-based initiative program. It funnels federal tax dollars to local religious groups to help them provide services to the poor, to addicted persons and to others in need of support. While Bush was governor of Texas, he became convinced that churches could do a better job of providing such services than the government.

With the release of a major book and a detailed GAO study during the summer/fall of 2006, the Faith-based Initiative program may be doomed.

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Insider's book exposes corruption of Faith-based Initiative program:

According to AANEWS on 2006-OCT-17:

A disturbing report from the GAO and a scathing book penned by a former faith-based office staffer may signal the end for the controversial effort to fund religious charity with public money.

President Bush's federal faith-based initiative could be in trouble following a critical government report and a new book hitting stores with charges that the White House manipulated religious conservatives for political gain.

"Tempting Faith: An Insider Story of Political Seduction" 1 was penned by [David] Kuo, who served as number-two man at the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives from 2001-2003.  Kuo's allegations have created a furor over Bush administration policy, and paint a picture of the key White House officials including deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, as condescending and cynical about evangelical Christians.  That attitude, however, did not prevent the Bush election machine from staging large events to promote the faith-based initiative in areas where important House and Senate races were taking place leading into the 2002 elections.

According to Kuo, Christian leaders like televangelist Pat Robertson were referred to as "nuts," "goofy" and "ridiculous," although their political support was always courted.

"National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person and then were dismissed behind their backs..."  Kuo wrote.  He added that on orders from Ken Mehlman, at the time Bush's director of public affairs, the White House faith-based office staged conferences in areas where Republicans faced daunting re-election challenges.

"The office decided to hold roundtable events for threatened incumbents with faith and community leaders, using the aura of our White House power to get a diverse group of faith and community leaders to a 'non-partisan' event discussing how best to help poor people in their area," Kuo revealed.

The White House quickly denied Kuo's charges. Press secretary Tony Snow first said that he had not seen the books, and then released a written statement insisting that there had been no attempt to exploit the faith-based initiative to score political points and help Republican candidates. 2

It may be worth noting that the book was released on 2006-OCT-16, almost exactly three weeks before the mid-term elections. This may have been a coincidence. However, if those responsible for the book's timing wanted to maximize its negative impact on the Republican party's chances in the election, OCT-16 would probably be an optimum date to release the book.

Conrad Goeringer, Editor of AANEWS wrote an article " 'Tempting Faith' -- The real case of denial about the religion tax in America." He writes:

David Kuo has written a book, "Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction," that has grabbed headlines and fueled a firestorm of controversy with its allegations about the federal faith-based initiative. 

Kuo charges, for instance, that prominent White House officials like Karl Rove, masquerading behind public support of the effort to distribute hundreds of millions of dollars to religious groups in order to administer religion-saturated social programs, mocked evangelical Christians behind their backs, and suborned this initiative on behalf of "compassionate conservatism" into a cynical campaign to win elections for Republicans.  Churches and evangelical leaders who supported GOP candidates, along with political kleptomaniacs like Tom DeLay, benefited from this government largesse.

There were "conferences" organized by the White House Office for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in districts where Republicans desperately needed the support of evangelical voters.

It was a blatant quid-pro-quo.  Grants to operate lucrative social programs and proselytize the neediest, most vulnerable elements in our society in the process, seemed to appear in tandem with those ballot initiatives against gay marriage, or where candidates for public office were screeching the most about "family values" and bringing the country "back to God."

In all of the buzz about the Kuo book, however, there are some glaring points no one seems willing to discuss. ...

[A] shortcoming in Mr. Kuo's book is the implicit message that the federal faith-based initiative was potentially a sound and appropriate social experiment that fell captive to bureaucratic dysfunction and lustful political ambition.  He and stalwart supporters of the program may argue that with sufficient oversight and in the hands of a less-craven and power hungry administration, the effort to deal with social ills by distributing tax money to churches and other houses of worship is not only worthy but workable.

We must disagree here.  Even if the faith-based initiative somehow avoided the problems cited by Mr. Kuo or enumerated in the recent Government Accounting Office report on accountability and oversight within the program, it remains a constitutionally flawed and unfair idea.  A "better" faith-based initiative, whatever the bureaucratic criteria may be, still extorts money from millions of Americans who are Atheists, Freethinkers, Humanists or some other type of nonbeliever.  It takes money from those who do not embrace religious creeds, and gives it to churches and other faith-based groups.  It crosses a constitutional line dividing the spheres of church and state, ultimately promotes religious faith, and amounts to a "religion tax" on our citizenry.

The faith-based initiative should be dismantled not because it is organizationally flawed, or lacks sufficient guidelines, or requires further tinkering, but because it is unconstitutional and ethically wrong.  It does not matter that more churches, mosques or temples have yet to endorse it or participate.  Government has no business subsidizing religious groups in such a fashion, even under the guise of "compassionate conservatism."  If the notion of "religious liberty" and the principle of freedom from religious coercion mean anything, it must be a declaration that no man or woman may be compelled by the state to believe in a particular creed, join a certain congregation, or support a religious organization (and religious belief in general) through taxation.

Mr. Kuo's book and the other revelations about the faith-based initiative are welcome reminders that religion and politics can be an unstable and socially deleterious alliance.  It should surprise no one that the Bush social experiment ultimately succumbed to political ambition and the hunt for votes.  Indeed, it was clear from the moment that President Bush conjured the faith-based scheme into existence -- it has never been granted approval from Congress -- using his power of Executive Orders, that the coterie of priests, pastors, mullahs and other religious leaders supporting him were hard pressed to trade the votes of their congregations for more of the public coin.  It was vote begging and vote buying, pure and simple. ...

 Despite his cynicism, Karl Rove knows that there are about 4 million evangelical votes that he has his fellow political strategists need in order to keep their party in office.  Indeed, the new-found enthusiasm of many Democrats like Mr. Barak Obama who want to jump in to the risky business of wooing evangelical and other religious voters, is testament to the power of blind faith at the ballot box.  Robertson, Falwell, Dobson, D. James Kennedy all wield considerable power within the Republican Party and on Capitol Hill, and that influence cannot and should not be ignored.

That fact, too, is yet another reason to dismantle the faith-based initiative at the federal, state and local level.  Atheists and other nonreligious American will never have a fair playing field to support public policies that affirm the separation of church and state if we are being taxed to fund theocratic social programs, organizations and values.  Mr. Kuo exposes much of what is wrong when government subsidizes religion with public money.  It is up to us to successfully argue the rest of the case against the "religion tax" in America.

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Critical GAO report cites problems with performance, and accountability:

According to AANEWS on 2006-OCT-17:

The allegations in "Tempting Faith," however, are not the first criticisms about how the Bush initiative is operating. In June, 2006, the General Accounting Office (GAO), which serves as the investigative watch-dog agency for Congress, issued a stinging report looking into monitoring and accountability issues in the federal faith-based initiative.  It challenged many of the claims made by supporters of the program -- that churches and other houses of worship can deliver social services "faster, better and cheaper" than secular counterparts, and still remain within legal boundaries.

The report found widespread evidence that the government has yet to establish a consistent and thorough process to monitor grant recipients and gauge the effectiveness of their programs.  In addition, GAO investigators discovered that a shocking number of agencies benefiting from the largesse of faith-based grants were, in fact, mixing religion with their social programs.

Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), who along with Rep. George Miller (D-CA) asked the GAO to look into the White House program, said

"The Bush administration has failed to develop standards to verify that faith-based organizations aren't using federal funds to pay for inherently religious activity or to provide services on the basis of religion." 

The report, for instance, cited the example where four FBOs (Faith-Based Organizations)"

"that provided voluntary religious activities did not separate in terms of time or location some religious activities from federally funded program services."

Researchers also noted that there was:

"Little information ... available to assess progress toward another long-term goal of improving participant outcomes because outcome-based evaluations for many pilot programs have not begun..."

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Secular response:

Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists said that both the GAO report and the revelations in Mr. Kuo's book confirm fears that have been leveled  by critics of the Bush faith-based initiative. She said:

"It shouldn't surprise anyone that with all of this money being made available and little fiscal oversight, the faith-based initiative is out of control. We're paying the price now for a government program that started off as a questionable and unconstitutional experiment, and has ended up being a tool for partisan politics." 2

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References used:

  1. David Kuo, Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction, Free Press, (2006-OCT-16). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store Six reviewers on the web site gave this book a rating of 29 stars out of a possible maximum of 30 -- an amazing total.
  2. "End of the road for Bush faith-based initiative?," AANEWS, 2006-OCT-17.
  3. Conrad Goeringer, " 'Tempting Faith' -- The real case of denial about the religion tax in America," AANEWS, 2006-OCT-17.

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Text from AANEWS Copyright 2006 by American Atheists. Used by permission.
Posted: 2006-OCT-18
Latest update: 2006-OCT-18

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