President George W. Bush fulfilled one of his campaign promises on Tuesday by sending to Congress his “ideas and proposals” to expand federal funding to faith-based groups. Some would have Americans believe that this means Bush is starting a program to give our tax money to Christian churches. This is not the case.
To begin, these types of programs are already in existence through such legislation as the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, and they already have well established rules to see that religion does not become a part of federally funded programs. Also, before many of Bush’s ideas can be put into action, they will have to be approved by Congress.
Bush sees faith-based institutions – whether churches, synagogues or mosques – as the most effective way to eliminate the problems facing our needy children. His plan would provide for all of them equally. Faith-based organizations already have the buildings, caring staff and presence in needy communities to implement things like after-school programs. However, the president’s plan includes measures to also further aid secular organizations.
“We will not fund the religious activities of any group, but when people of faith provide social services, we will not discriminate against them,” Bush said.
He has a good point. Can we really tell people of faith that they are ineligible for federal funds based on their personal beliefs or the fact that their buildings are used for religious purposes at other times?
Finally, some are trying to present the case that we cannot force people to enter faith-based institutions to get help. Yet Bush’s plan clearly concurs with the beliefs of the majority of our population. A June 2000 Gallup Poll says that 56 percent of Americans have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the church, and the same poll states that 63 percent of Americans believe religion can answer all or most of today’s problems. We must remember that a child brought up in a world void of faith has an equally biased outlook as a child indoctrinated into one religion. In the president’s plan, people can receive help from the faith-based institution of their choice, and, since the institution will be one that already serves their specific community, it will be a more comfortable setting than any government program could ever create.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) agrees with the plan. While traveling with President Bush to support the program Tuesday he said, “I am optimistic that we can strike the right balance of inclusion, and harness the best forces of faith in our public life without infringing on the First Amendment and without excluding those different beliefs.”
-The writer is director of Public Affairs for the GW College Republicans.