Faith-based initiative gets major push, puts hiring decisions in organizations' hands, and goes international
Critics of President Bush's faith-based initiative painted an apocalyptic picture of Talibanization and funding of religious hatred. "In essence, the government is going to be funding religious discrimination," says Americans United for Separation of Church and State spokesman Joe Conn.
The White House not only denies such scenarios, of course, but says some faith-based organizations are already facing nightmares of their own. The Victory Center Rescue Mission in Iowa was told it would lose $100,000 in federal funds because its board wasn't secular enough, the Associated Press reports. And officials told the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty in New York that it was forbidden from even applying for funds because it has the word Jewish in its name. Religious nonprofits, including soup kitchens and relief organizations, were even denied Federal Emergency Management Agency funds after natural disasters.
Faith-based organizations help the poor—and are usually better at it than organizations that aren't faith-based. So if we really want to help the poor with government funds, why not allow faith-based organizations to use them too? That has always been the basic principle behind Bush's initiative. "The president believes the federal government can remove barriers that prevent faith-based and grassroots groups from doing more to help Americans in need," an unnamed administration official told Reuters.
And since the Senate couldn't even pass a bad version of the bill Bush requested, let alone a good one, Bush has decided to leave Congress to its own devices and expand religious organizations' options through executive orders.
From early press reports, it looks like everything faith-based social service organizations were looking for. The fiat orders federal agencies to treat religious groups as they would any other. Faith-based organizations can't be denied funds even if they have religious titles or display religious images like icons, crosses, or menorahs, but such ministries can't use the federal funds for "inherently religious" activities.
And here's the big one: they also can't be denied funds if they make employment decisions on the basis of religion. That was the issue most responsible for stalling the bill in the Senate. Democrats wanted to mandate that any religious organization receiving funds would have to follow all anti-discrimination laws. Several faith-based organizations said such requirements would undermine their religious identity, and thus undercut the very social service work they were seeking funds for.
Here's another big development in Bush's plan: along with adding a faith-based office to the Department of Agriculture to help religious groups compete for federal grants, he's also creating one in the U.S. Agency for International Development. (Five other Cabinet departments, Justice, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Education, already have such offices.) Taking the faith-based initiative international may have tremendous implications. After all, most of the largest Christian nonprofit organizations are involved in overseas aid work (World Vision, Feed the Children, World Relief, Samaritan's Purse). USAID has worked with such religious organizations, but should smooth out any rough edges.
The disadvantage to Bush's order, of course, is that it's only an executive order. The next president can just as easily revoke it with the stroke of a pen, and any faith-based organizations that have increased their programs as a result of federal funds may find themselves hung out to dry. For that reason alone, some of the organizations may be skittish about seeking the funds. And that's why Bush initially sought to have the initiative installed as law through Congress.
Christmas and Advent:
- This Christmas season, Jesus is a grown-up | In the wake of 9/11, public interest in Jesus's teachings as an adult is outshining the traditional emphasis on the Bethlehem babe (The Christian Science Monitor)
- Observations of Advent are varied | Traditions of prayer and reflection before Christmas would serve our age well as an antidote to the unbridled commercialism (Redlands [Calif.] Daily Facts)
- It's Christmas by the carload | Ordinary takes a backseat to church's drive-through Nativity (The Philadelphia Inquirer)
- A vicar collides with Santa; the elf survives | The priest in question had based his message on a tongue-in-cheek analysis of Santa Claus' flight that appeared in the now-defunct humor magazine Spy a dozen years ago (The Washington Times)
- Scottish churches join national campaign on the real meaning of Christmas | In one ad, one of the three kings looks in horror at the price tag left on his gift of gold to the infant Jesus above the catchline, "Losing the plot? Give yourself a break at church this Christmas." (Associated Press)
- Interfaith families get breathing room this year | With Hanukkah over by almost a week and Christmas still nearly two weeks away, interfaith families have the rare luxury of putting away the menorah before putting up the tree (The Boston Globe)
- Within the family: Let's do our Christmas in winter | We all know that we borrowed a Northern Hemisphere date, and that the date never had any historical accuracy (Suzanne Innes-Kent, The New Zealand Herald)
- "Santa is consumption" says couple | Valerie Williams says she doesn't want to participate in a "white, middle-class, heterosexual, patriarchial, Christian Christmas" (Canada.com)
- For Austrians, ho-ho-ho is no laughing matter | In Austria, birthplace of "Silent Night," the rotund gent in the red suit is provoking a Yuletide backlash (The New York Times)
- Christmas is a special time in many cultures | Christianity isn't the only faith in a nation that is founded on the principles of religious freedom (Bluefield [WV] Daily Telegraph)
Church and state:
- Does prayer belong in government meetings? | Religion is a transcendent and powerful moral voice, not a window-dressing to make public officials look good (Donald P. Shoemaker, Long Beach [Calif.] Press Telegram)
- Cross creates desert storm | ACLU, park service debate makeshift war memorial (The Washington Post)
- Public money; private groups | The growing amount of public funds given to church-affiliated schools and to churches concerns some government watchdogs and religious freedoms groups (Daily Herald, Chicago suburbs)
- A hot one in Alabama | One doesn't have to be a constitutional scholar —just have a nodding acquaintance with history—to note that liberals have made hash of the so-called separation of church and state issue (Thomas Roeser, Chicago Sun-Times)
- If you post the Commandments, expect to be sued, town warned | Americans United for the Separation of Church and State threatens Crestview, Fla. (Associated Press)
- Judge appeals call to remove Decalogue | "Federal district courts have no jurisdiction or authority to prohibit the acknowledgment of God that is specifically recognized in the Constitution of Alabama," Alabama Chief Justice Moore said in a statement announcing the appeal (Associated Press)
- Also: Moore to appeal order against monument (The Birmingham News)
- Hatch asks for more legal weight against pledge ruling | Wants Senate's legal counsel to file an amicus brief to accompany government challenge to ruling (Fox News)
- Mary Holmes College loses accreditation | Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)-affiliated school has serious financial trouble (The Clarion-Ledger, Mississippi)
- Policy resolved on origin of life | The State Board of Education yesterday unanimously adopted a set of science standards that makes Ohio the first state to require students to examine criticisms of biological evolution (The Plain Dealer, Cleveland)
- Also: Ohio school board OKs science standards (Associated Press)
- Stanford plans stem-cell institute | Center will also focus on related cancer research (San Francisco Chronicle)
- Also: Stanford may clone human embryos | New Center's Work Could Have Big Impact (The Washington Post)
- I'll take the womb with a view | Prolife folks have generalized from a specific statement of credentials to suggest that God knows all the people before they are even people; indeed, before they are even fetuses (Jon Carroll, San Francisco Chronicle)
- Avoiding the issue | Is abortion aborting hope for GOP in California? (Mark Herrick, San Francisco Chronicle)
- Lesbian lolitas | High-school girls want to be gay-ish (The New York Observer)
- Archbishop warned to keep faith with the Bible on gays | Fearing that society could begin to unravel, the leaders of the Church of England's main evangelical groupings joined forces to make clear their unwavering opposition to homosexual ordinations and the blessing of gay "marriages" (The Times, London)
- Also: Church alliance warns Williams over gays (The Daily Telegraph, London)
- Also: Hardline Anglicans take shot at leader (The Guardian, London)
- D.C. church authorizes same-sex unions | National City Christian Church, a prominent mainline congregation in Northwest Washington that belongs to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination, has decided to allow same-sex weddings in its sanctuary (The Washington Post)
Clergy sex abuse:
- Church impedes state probe into abuse, Reilly says | Attorney General says Archdiocese of Boston has been using ''every tool and maneuver'' to impede a criminal investigation (The Boston Globe)
- Cardinal Law to confer with pope, 2 officials say (The Boston Globe)
- Ex-minister offers denials and apology in sex abuse | Jack S. Miller, accused of having sexual contact with eight boys and young men, said yesterday that some of the allegations had merit (The New York Times)
- Priests and parishioners urge law to step down | Voice of the Faithful joins call (The Washington Post)
- Cardinal's trip to Rome fueling theories of bankruptcy, quitting | Boston Archdiocese in financial crisis since sex abuse scandal disclosed (The Dallas Morning News)
- Paul Shanley, priest at center of Boston sex scandal, freed after posting bail | Lawyer won't say who fronted the money (Associated Press)
- Faithful pledge unity within diversity | Observing the 61st anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that ignited war in the Pacific, leaders in the Interreligious and International World Peace Blessing and Rededication Ceremony urged those in attendance to love one another, regardless of superficial differences (The Washington Times)
- Why hate the 'People of the Book'? | When I told a friend that there was no precedent for cursing Jews and Christians in Friday sermons, he replied that if I counted them as friends, I was one of them (Khaled Batarfi/ Al-Madinah, Arab News, Saudi Arabia)
- Christian fundamentalists and American hegemony | Though a few Arab writers have written about the dangerous course taken by religious fundamentalists in the U.S., serious efforts have yet to be made to warn the Muslim and Arab public about the increasing influence of the anti-Muslim religious fundamentalist lobby in the United States (Abdul Qader Tash, Arab News, Saudi Arabia)
- Pastor exposes congregation to leaders of different faiths | To promote religious diversity and some blending of religions into his church, Rednower has been inviting religious leaders of different denominations to speak to his Baptist congregation (The Flint [Mich.] Journal)
- Not all theologies earn equal respect | Tony Blair and Cherie could be up to worse things than crystals, primal screaming and Feng Shui; they could be militant Christians who anticipate the end of the world and therefore see no point in preserving our material well being into the future. (Malachi O'Doherty, The Belfast Telegraph)
- Religious tolerance prevails | Most local groups accept diverse beliefs, symbols (News-Press, Fort Myers, Fla.)
- Mormons agree, again, to end posthumous baptisms of Jews | Agreement was apparently breached since it was made with Jewish leaders seven years ago (Associated Press)
- Earlier: Mormons meet with Jewish group in New York over baptizing holocaust victims | Mormon and Jewish leaders met to discuss the Mormon church's apparent breach of its agreement not to posthumously baptize Holocaust victims and other deceased Jews (Associated Press)
- Also: Baptism meeting 'productive' (The Salt Lake Tribune)
What Would Jesus Drive? campaign:
- No apologies due for SUVs | Would Jesus rather spend $65,000 to campaign against energy consumption or spend that money to feed the hungry or help the sick? (Jerry Taylor, The Washington Times)
- Stopping traffic | What would Jesus drive? (Katherine Ellison, Christian Century)
- Saints (and sinners) bare their souls | A diverse group of spiritual memoirs and inspirational biographies flood the market (Publishers Weekly)
- Growing number of Protestants taking a closer look at Mary | Mary shouldn't belong only to the Catholics, especially at Christmas (Religion News Service)
- ChristianityToday.com chosen to manage leftbehind.com | "While opinions vary about the books' eschatology, it is clear that they introduce to American culture themes of God's holiness, judgment, and redemption—themes largely lost to the public consciousness," says CEO (Press release)
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