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Bush Failure Resurrected on National Level

By Malcom Lagauce (Jeff Archer)
June 4-5, 2004

For the past few days, we have seen George Bush surrounded by clergymen who are gleeful about his "faith-based" initiative that would give billions of dollars to religious institutions for performing social services. Many of the pastors shaking his hand would, under other circumstances, not be seen in the same room with the Supreme Court-appointed president. However, when big bucks are concerned, even the pious succumb to the smell of greenbacks.

Some may say, "Oh, that's Lagauche the atheist complaining about religion again." However, the danger of this money handout is more than just a separation of government/religion issue. Horrendous results can occur.

Let's look back at the beginning of the entire national faith-based proposals. The varnish on Bush's chair in the White House had not dried before he publicized his new look at social services. Religion would play a crucial role in the healing of the sick, the feeding of the poor and the rehabilitation of drug and alcohol addicts. It was simple; just give billions of dollars to religious institutions and they will handle all the dirty work. In January 2001, Bush said, "When we see social needs in America, my administration will look first to faith-based programs and community groups."

Bush quickly discovered that the U.S. Congress was not about to buy into his simplistic program. Opposition came forward; much from religious lawmakers themselves. So, Bush, in an enlightened moment, came up with a presidential decree that would make legal the program that Congress did not want.

There is a curious aspect of this program that seems to have gone over the heads of journalists who have written about the faith-based initiative; both those who support it and those who oppose it. The lawmakers and their spokespeople who want to institute the program maintain that it is for all religions, yet in their speeches, they consistently mention "churches" that will benefit. I am sure all religions will be included, but the exclusivity of the word "churches" can make one question whether the program is not just for Christian organizations. Maybe they should be told that religions other than Christianity use temples, mosques and other named buildings in which to worship, not churches.

Now comes the important information about faith-based programs. This is not new. When George Bush was governor of Texas, he implemented the same programs in that state as he is now advocating for the entire country. The results were a dismal failure.

In a report called "The Texas Faith-Based Initiative at Five Years," released on October 10, 2002, the group The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund slammed the program for its cost, inefficiency and outright danger posed to those who were supposedly beneficiaries of the services.

Before I write about their conclusions, I would like to bring up the two most important points of the faith-based programs; points that are rarely, if ever, mentioned by the politicians or the press. First, in the area of discrimination, those who receive governmental funds for their faith-based programs are exempt from hiring laws that apply to all non-faith-based businesses in the U.S. that deal with the government. If a Methodist organization learns that an applicant for a job in its drug rehabilitation program is a Jew, or an atheist, or a Roman Catholic, the applicant can be dismissed because he/she does not practice the Methodist brand of Christianity. Any program of any religion can deny employment because of race, creed, religion, marital status, gender, sexual choice, political affiliation, or social connection and not be held liable. I realize that private businesses and organizations have a certain leeway in hiring practices, but governmental-sponsored agencies in the faith-based program can openly discriminate and not lose funding.

The second contentious issue - one that can spell danger for the recipients - is that those who are part of the faith-based program do not have to have qualified individuals on their staffs. In Texas, many instances of drug rehabilitation programs were shown to have staff with not one minute of training in drug addiction who were giving advice. In this field, a bit of bad advice can be life-threatening for the person who needs help.

Let's look at some of the findings of the commission that studied Texas' faith-based programs:

  • Loosening regulations over faith-based providers has not served the faith community at large, but has instead provided a refuge for facilities with a history of regulatory violations, a theological objection to state oversight and a higher rate of abuse and neglect

  • Loosening regulations over faith-based providers has endangered people in need and lowered standards of client health, safety and quality of care in Texas.

  • Faith-based deregulation has allowed physical disease to go medically untreated. Most of the exempt faith-based programs have no medical component and rely instead of treating drug and alcohol abuse as a sin, not a disease.

  • Regulatory changes have resulted in preferential treatment of faith-based providers in government contracting opportunities.

  • Taxpayer funds have been co-mingled with church funds and spent on overly religious activities.

  • After five years of aggressively implementing a Bush-style faith-based initiative in Texas, positive results have proven impossible to document or measure. Evidence points instead to a system that is unregulated, prone to favoritism and co-mingling of funds, and even dangerous to the very people it is supposed to serve.

The five-year experiment has been a fiasco. Even many of those who supported it initially are now trying to shot down much of the program. According to the commission, "As the state that has moved farthest along in the faith-based initiative experiment, Texas' move to shut down one of the lynchpins of "Charitable Choice" signifies a dramatic rollback of the initiative.

While even the original supporters of the Texas faith-based initiative are now attempting to dismantle it because it was a disaster, Bush is implementing it on a national level. There is not one word spoken about the failure of the program in Texas. To Bush, this is immaterial because his campaign is rich from the monies given by religion to him.

To show how blatantly incompetent the Texas program was, the commission used the inspection reports of one organization, Teen Challenge, to prove its point. Here are some of the results of a state inspection called "Teen Challenge Health and Safety Violations":

  • No qualified credential counselors on staff.

  • No chemical dependency services are being provided.

  • No staff has current CPR and First-Aid training. No policies on psychiatric or medical emergencies were found.

  • Smoke detection alarm systems inoperable.

  • Exposed wires and electrical outlets . missing bulbs, dangling light fixtures, and holes in ceilings near light fixtures.

  • Violated requirements to "provide a safe, secure, and well-maintained environment."

  • Violated requirement to disclose client Bill of Rights and client grievance procedures.

  • Violated requirement that "the facility shall not exploit clients by using client labor inappropriately."

  • Violated incident reporting requirements.

  • Violated requirements to: "protect the health, safety, rights, and welfare of clients; provide adequate services . ; comply with all applicable laws, regulation, policies and procedures; maintain required licenses, permits and credentials; and comply with professional and ethical codes of conduct."

Shortly after this report, the Teen Challenge program was included in Bush's faith-based initiative, allowing it to operate as normal without complying with any of the stated discrepancies. In July 1995, Bush used the group as a beacon for his initiative as he stated, "Teen Challenge should view itself as a pioneer in how Texas approaches faith-based programs."

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