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From owner-aanews@atheists.org Wed Sep 5 06:11:37 2001
Subject: AANEWS for Tuesday, September 4, 2001
Date: Tue, 4 Sep 2001 19:24:25 -0400
Precedence: bulk
From: owner-aanews@atheists.org
To: brownh@hartford-hwp.com

Lieberman faith-based bill may be Bush's best hope

American Atheists,
#954, 4 September 2001

Despite Executive Orders establishing a White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and passage in the U.S. House of enabling legislation, the fate of President Bush's plan to subsidize religious groups operating social programs may rest with the man who ran against him on the Democratic ticket in 2000 -- Sen. Joseph Lieberman.

According to writer Richard Benedetto in a USA TODAY (9-4-01) piece, Lieberman could be the best hope for survival of the controversial entitlement plan that would give churches, mosques, temples and other houses of worship billions of dollars in taxpayer money. The first part of the funding scheme, H.R. 7 or the Community Solutions Act, cleared the House on July 19 by a 233-198 vote margin. It would expand the charitable choice provision of the 1994 welfare reform act, and permit religious groups to compete with secular counterparts for government grants in order to operate faith-based social services. Critics, though, worry that these groups will be able to use religion as a criteria in hiring and other practices. They charge that is tantamount to government-funded discrimination.

A compromise version is in the works, though, with Lieberman as the point-man in the Senate. President Bush is reportedly open to a modified version that would permit churches to accept taxpayer grants, but still require them to obey local, state and other anti-discrimination ordinances.

According to the USA TODAY story, Lieberman plans to begin serious work on a compromise measure along with White House officials and Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. They will start by returning to the exact language of the 1996 'charitable choice' provisions of the welfare reform law that allowed faith-based groups to run government-funded welfare programs, notes Mr. Benedetto. The story adds that the 1996 measure enjoyed broad bipartisan support and signed by President Clinton. While it calls for allotments of federal dollars, it also permits religious groups to hire only those of their own faith. It said nothing about circumventing laws on discrimination against gay men and women.

How far religious groups could go in discriminating while still accepting public funds, though, remains a point of disagreement and concern. The Salvation Army, for instance, was recently exposed for operating a secret influence-peddling campaign, and lobbying the White House to guarantee that it could continue receiving government grants and ignore local or state statutes prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals.

Lieberman hopes to close the discrimination loophole, and open the floodgates of public funding for religious groups, though. By appealing to liberals who support the civil rights legislation, and conservative who are anxious to put churches and other houses of worship on the public payroll as the next step in welfare reform, a Lieberman bill could clear the Senate and end up on Mr. Bush's desk.

That's a problem, says American Atheists President Ellen Johnson, who has worked hard to stop funding of faith-based social programs.

This is about more than whether religious groups can or should be immunized from civil rights statutes, said Johnson. The bottom line here is with or without the Lieberman compromise, millions of Atheists, Freethinkers and other nonbelievers would have their tax money diverted to churches in order to operate faith-based social programs.

Johnson says that this amounts to a flat-out Religion Tax.

Many liberals and Democrats are already on board the push for a revised faith-based funding bill, fueling accusations of a coming sell-out on the Religion Tax legislation. Democrats are looking ahead to next year's crucial congressional elections, says the USA TODAY report, and might be reluctant to give Bush a victory on a measure that he has been so closely identified with. Said Mr. Lieberman: If we agree on a role for faith-based groups in carrying out government social service programs, we ought not hesitate just because President Bush supports it.

Obstacles remain, though. Bush and the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives are in full gear trying to prod the Senate on quick action on H.R. 7. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) says that the final bill probably will not be on the floor this year, as the President desperately wants. Even if Lieberman and the White House can quickly agree on precise wording for a revised proposal, the battle over the federal budget could consume the remainder of the Congressional calendar. That gives state-church separationists badly needed time to oppose the faith-based initiative, including the Lieberman compromise, as bad legislation that violates the Constitution.

For further information:

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faithlob.htm (Background, archive of articles on the faith-based initiative)

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faith36.htm (Faith-based office czar leaving post, 8/19/01)

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faith35.htm (White House advocacy reports call for end to barriers... 8/19/01)

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faith34.htm (Faith-based scams proliferate... 8/13/01)

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faith33.htm (Last minute add on for faith-based funding -- $47 billion, 8/7/01

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faith32.htm (Bush open to compromise on Lieberman faith-based funding bill, 7/29/01)

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faith30.htm (Liberman crafting revised bill -- a coming liberal sell out? 7/24/01)