Is Bush's Religious Charity Plan Sinking?
Bush has found opposition to his faith-based initiative in the most surprising of places--among religious conservatives.
BY: Deborah Caldwell and Steven Waldman
President Bush's faith-based initiative is in trouble.
On Beliefnet today, two leading religious conservatives join the widening circle of evangelicals wary of the plan.
In an exclusive interview, the Rev. Jerry Falwell says he has "deep concerns" about the proposal--and wishes that money would not go to Muslim groups. And in a separate article, Richard Land, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said that while he hopes the plan passes, he personally "would not touch the money with the proverbial 10-foot pole."
The criticism comes just days after Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson said that Bush's plan, by providing money to groups like the Hare Krishnas and the Church of Scientology, creates "an intolerable situation." Meanwhile, Paul Hetrick, a spokesman for Focus on the Family, run by Dr. James Dobson, says that while the group is "still studying" the plan, if the organization were ever eligible for the money, it would probably not accept it.
Even Marvin Olasky, a long-time Bush supporter and author of "Compassionate Conservatism," said recently he is wary of direct government grants.
The comments show what a minefield Bush has entered, and raise serious questions about the political viability of the plan as crafted. President Bush has proposed that faith-based charities be allowed to compete for government funds, as long as they can prove effectiveness in fighting social problems.
"It is doubtful we will ever apply for any assistance under the faith-based initiative plan as Mr. Bush has proposed it," says Falwell, noting that his ministries have never accepted government money.
Falwell, Robertson, and Land all expressed two major concerns: that the money would come with strings attached, and that such a program would have to offer money to religions outside the mainstream--out of both fairness and the need to pass constitutional muster.
"Once the pork barrel is filled, suddenly the Church of Scientology, the Jehovah Witnesses, the various and many denominations and religious groups--and I don't say those words in a pejorative way--begin applying for money--and I don't see how any can be turned down because of their radical and unpopular views. I don't know where that would take us."