Thursday, March 23, 2006

What if God Was One of Us?

I have always been one willing to keep an open mind when it comes to the issue of faith-based initiatives. After all, religious charities do some really good things (when was the last time you worked at a food kitchen that wasn't in a church?)

But an article in today's Washington Post raises some interesting questions. The Post reports that "under the auspices of its religion-based initiatives and other federal programs, the administration has funneled at least $157 million in grants to organizations run by political and ideological allies...that support President Bush's agenda on abortion and other social issues."

It is important to note what this article doesn't do. It doesn't accuse the Administration of corruption. And it is clear that for the most part it is a coincidence: "Programs such as the Compassion Capital Fund, under the Health and Human Services, are designed to support religion-based social services, a goal that inevitably funnels money to organizations run by people who share Bush's conservative cultural agenda." To be clear, "the distribution of new money to conservative organizations is a small part of an estimated flood of $2 billion a year in federal grants to religious and religiously affiliated organizations." And "for decades, in Democratic and Republican administrations, well over $1 billion annually has been going to such groups."

But I think it raises a valid question. Should the government be allowed to fund "Heritage Community Services in Charleston, S.C.," a group with a deeply conservative social philosophy...promot[ing] abstinence education at the county fair, local schools and the local Navy base?"

"During the Clinton years there was a "liberal tilt of federal grant money" with "taxpayer funds [going] to abortion rights groups such as Planned Parenthood to promote birth control, and groups closely aligned with the AFL-CIO got Labor Department grants to run worker-training programs."

Is this just the Republicans turn to do their thing? Or is there a real problem here? Is there a difference between a religious anti-abortion group getting federal money to do sexual education and a secular abortion-rights group getting federal money to do sexual education?

Given America's history, religion and government is something we always need be cautious about. Yet, given the religiosity of the American populace, religion is something the government can and should be able to use to achieve good. I'm not sure I know where to draw the line.


At 2:45 AM, Blogger James Polkuote said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 2:50 AM, Blogger James Polkuote said...

A few quick points to an otherwise very good summary and open-ended question to a tricky question --

A) Pop homage notwithstanding, correct grammar would have your title reading "What if God were One of Us?" Warrants mentioning.

B) Because you asked, the last time I worked in a food kitchen, it was in my city's Senior Center, a non-religious entity.

C) As to the question posed by the article you summarize, I don't think the solution is not funding any religious group, period. But I do believe prioritizing religious groups makes for faulty public policy. Funneling federal dollars into churches in order to do civic purposes (i.e. post-Katrina) just asks for bad communication, lousy accountability and inequity of service delivery. Just because the American populace is rather religious, as Harry notes, doesn't mean it's fair to focus resouces on that population. Maybe the effort can be made to strike an even balance. But more likely, it's a trend unlikely to stop, and we'll continue to see policy executed via local religious groups ad infinitum.


Post a Comment

<< Home