The most recent challenge to Bush’s Faith-Based and Community Initiatives was rejected by the Supreme Court (5-4) this week, not on the basis of merit, but on the basis that the Freedom from Religion Foundation didn’t have standing to sue the Bush Administration to halt the expenditures of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. For those of us working with faith-based community initiatives in the trenches, we are unmoved by this ongoing church and state debate. Rather, we see the cruel impact of the constant cutting back of funds to help deal with the impact of low wages, lack of health care, and the use of prisons as a housing program.
At issue, in the narrow scope, was the 39-year-old exception (Flast vs. Cohen) to the general rule that taxpayers do not have standing to challenge spending on programs that they believe promote religion. The Court’s ruling, in Judge Alito’s opinion, leaves Flast “as it is,” but narrows the application.
The separation of church and state groups have vowed to continue. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is quoted in a Washington Times article saying, “the legal assault on the constitutionality of the faith-based programs will continue.”
Some of the barriers applied by the government that made it difficult to incorporate one’s faith motivations have been removed, but so have most of the federal funds for the programs that would make a difference. So it is a cruel hoax to spend so much money running conferences encouraging faith-based groups to apply for federal funds that are not there. Energy should be spent instead on changing priorities to promoting “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for all Americans.
Mary Nelson is president emeritus of Bethel New Life, a faith-based community development corporation on the west side of Chicago. She is also a board member of Sojourners/Call to Renewal.