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Jewish World Review Feb. 20, 2001/ 27 Shevat, 5761

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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A Message for faith-based organizations: Don't take the money, just run -- THERE are not many occasions when social scientists produce rational thought. However, their research on faith-based programs is unassailable. These programs work in everything from preventing teen pregnancy to drug rehab to reduced recidivism. Plowing more money into these programs is simply economic and social efficiency.

Chuck Colson, a Nixon and Watergate crony, did 7 months in the federal pen for obstruction of justice. What does a lawyer who once said he would have run over his grandmother to win an election do following a felony plea and hard time? Form Prison Fellowship, the largest prison ministry in the world, now reaching into 83 countries. Inmates who participate in Prison Fellowship are 3 times less likely to be rearrested than those released from prison without Colson's program. Researchers who examined Colson's efforts conclude there is no better program anywhere.

Franklin Raines, a Democrat, former Carter administration official and chairman and CEO of Fannie Mae has written, "When it comes to alleviating poverty and social pathologies, the most creative force in America are volunteer organizations in those neighborhoods where it takes faith to believe transformation is possible," and "We've found that some of the best services emanate from groups inspired by or affiliated with religious organizations."

But, President Bush should resist the temptation to toss federal money at faith-based groups. Religion is far too fearsome to idolaters who worship rights, power and Barbra Streisand to allow faith and its healing powers to increase via government funds. For example, Colson teaches we are all made in G-d's image and crime is an affront not just to G-d but others who share that dignity of origin. John DiIulio, Bush's director for his faith-based program office, has taken leave of his senses if he believes the ACLU is going to let that one slip by unchallenged. He might as well wear a sign on his back that reads, "Sue me!" The courts would have an easier time with Bible thumpers proselytizing with tambourines outside partial-birth abortion clinics. These protestors at least have a First Amendment prayer, as it were. The Boy Scouts had a heck of a time demanding straight leaders around young boys and the ACLU is going to take a pass on repentance for burglars?

It is a mistake to underestimate the resolve of the dark side. The grizzly death of Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the woman who got prayer out of schools, at the hands of one of her followers evidences the chasm of evil in the hearts of those who disdain religion and the boundaries of right and wrong. Their moral corruptness causes passion, not reason, to control their actions. In a debate on the Chris Matthews Hardball program on federal funds for faith-based programs an ACLU attorney moaned, "These people have a right to professional counselors." Ah, the right to licensed treatment that will get them nowhere, not faith that heals.

Beyond the problems with pagan fussbudgets who will whine via litigation until they get their way are the constraints that federal funding will bring to these noble organizations. Clarence Thomas has often spoken of his grandparents' refusal to take welfare payments despite dire poverty. He and his family hold the firm conviction that for everything you get from the government, you surrender something in return. For welfare, you lose your privacy.

Faith-based organizations will lose control and the freedom to do as Chuck Colson does - pray, teach and testify about the saving grace of G-d. In surrendering their independence, they will sacrifice efficacy. Larry King reported in USA Today that President Gordon B. Hinckley of the Mormon Church plans to refuse federal funds despite that group's highly successful welfare program because of these issues and the importance of separation of church and state. An organization cannot be faith-based and federally ecumenical. They sacrifice their souls for cash.

Even in faith-based universities that simply accept Pell grants from their students, the long tentacles of federalism reach in and impose Title IX equality in sports, affirmative action programs and all manner of heavy-handed federal mischief. Brigham Young University found itself in court defending its mandatory and faith-based policy on separate housing for men and women because its accepts federal student loan funds.

Faith-based organizations should not take the money - they should run. Mr. Bush should work to increase private donations via tax credits providing incentives for groups that provide cures through faith. But, to inextricably intertwine the Feds with faith is misguided. If we cannot have a prayer at a football game, what makes us believe we are going to allow drug addicts to rely on G-d? Dream on.

The days of "In G-d we trust" are numbered. If offense is taken at faith manifest on coins, imagine what the healing testimony of an ex-con will do.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings