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From owner-aanews@atheists.org Mon Jul 23 22:27:46 2001
Subject: AANEWS for Monday, July 23, 2001
Date: Mon, 23 Jul 2001 19:41:40 -0400
Precedence: bulk
From: owner-aanews@atheists.org
To: brownh@hartford-hwp.com

Lieberman crafting revised faith-based funding bill: A coming liberal setout on the religion tax in America?

American Atheist, #937, 23 July 2001

Appearing on the Fox News Sunday program yesterday, Sen. Joseph L. Lieberman announced that he was crafting new legislation that would increase the availability of federal funds for religion-based charitable groups.

This comes after the House last Thursday passed H.R. 7, the Community Solutions Act which was a major step in funding President Bush's federal faith-based initiative. Lieberman said that his legislation would compete with H.R. 7.

That's not right. It's not necessary. And it's going to stop a bipartisan agreement on this very good idea, gushed Lieberman.

I've always believed that religion is a source of unity in America, not division, Lieberman added. Right now, this bill (H.R. 7) is framed in a way that seems to have divided us.

The Community Solutions Act was sponsored by Reps. J.C. Watts, Jr (R-Oklahoma) and Tony Hall (D-Ohio). It would expand the charitable choice section of the 1996 welfare reform act, and encourage churches and other houses of worship to compete for federal grants in order to operate faith-based social programs. Despite clearing the house in a 233-198 vote, the measure is expected to encounter even stiffer opposition in the U.S. Senate. During Tuesday's debate over H.R. 7, opponents focused on provisions which would allow religious groups accepting government money to ignore local and state anti-discrimination statutes, and use religion as a criteria in hiring practices.

Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act gives similar immunity to religious groups.

Lieberman said that his faith-based funding bill would be designed to encourage the participation of churches, mosques and temples in the social service mix in a constitutionally appropriate way. It is expected that the Lieberman bill would emphasize an expanded charitable choice provision and other grants to religious groups, but require those same organizations to not use ethnicity, sexual orientation, or sectarian belief when hiring personnel.

It is not known at this time whether Lieberman's version would allow religious charities to by-pass other regulations that apply to secular groups, such as hiring credentialed professionals in drug and alcohol treatment programs. Religion-based programs like Teen Challenge, often cited as a paradigm in the delivery of rehab services by President Bush, are exempt from having to hire professional psychologists and other therapists, and may instead rely on preachers or untrained Bible-based counselors with little or no academic training.

Lieberman's announcement should have separationists concerned, despite the fact that the Connecticut lawmaker pledged to oppose H.R. 7 when it is brought up on the Senate floor. As written, the Community Solutions Act may not even have the votes to pass. Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle said that he will allow the legislation to come up for discussion despite his own reservations.

Appearing yesterday on the NBC program Meet The Press, Daschle (D-South Dakota) said, I don't want to be tied to a specific time frame, but ... we'll have that debate. He added that with the current Senate workload, it will be difficult to get it done this year.

So why is Lieberman on the verge of promoting his own faith-based funding initiative? Will religious and political interest groups back him?

Opponents Still Want A Religion Tax! One way of understanding Lieberman's move is to examine his role in the recent year 2000 election campaign, and the rhetoric in last Tuesday's debate over H.R.7.

Few Still Concerned About Religion Tax

The prospect of a Lieberman faith-based funding bill appeals strongly to many interest groups, including Democratic centrists intent on winning back church-goers and others drawn to the GOP's religious morality crusade. The legislation could also stop the embarrassing hemorrhage in Democratic ranks of black clergy, political leaders and congregations who have embraced President Bush's federal initiative with enthusiasm. Philadelphia Mayor John Street is a case in point, along with members of the Congressional Black Caucus who voted for H.R. 7.

Marginalized in this debate is the question of who exactly will fund these religious entitlement programs. Among those being taxed -- 27 million Americans who describes themselves as Atheists, Freethinkers, Humanists, Skeptics or nonbeliever of some kind. This, say the critics, amounts to the imposition of a Religion Tax on those of have no spiritual beliefs, and adhere to a thoroughly secular lifestyle.

Lieberman's criticism of H.R. 7 mirrors the skepticism of many lawmakers in Washington, and in the Senate. During his Fox News Channel appearance, Lieberman restricted his focus not to the idea that the Community Solutions Act forced Americans to subsidize faith-based outreaches, but rather his serious concerns about the weakness of the civil rights protections and constitutional safeguards, according to a spokesman. The current mood in Washington, then, is one that wants to ignore the touchy subjects of taxing non-religious Americans to fund faith-based programs, and find some way -- any way -- of drafting legislation that can squeeze under legal bar of First Amendment muster, and win votes at the ballot box.

** NOTE: A full breakdown on the vote tally on H.R. is now posted shortly on our web site. Check out: http://www.atheists.org/flash.line for updated information.

For further information:

http://www.thedaythatcounts.org (America's nonbelievers stand together to oppose funding of faith-based social programs)

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faithlob.htm (Archive of articles on public funding of religion)

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faith26.htm (Bush runs for cover, drops discrimination rule after expose of Salvation Army 'backdoor' influence peddling at White House, 7/15/01)

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faith24.htm (Survey of social programs, reports of another 'Bible Discipline' abuse case raise questions about faith-based initiative, 7/8/01)

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faith23.htm (Bush exploits July 4 unity celebration to promote faith-based agenda, 7/7/01)

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faith21.htm (Suit exposes use of lottery revenue to fund religious groups, pageant, 6/8/01)

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faith1.htm (Bush signs executive orders for faith-based programs, 1/29/01)

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faith5.htm (Religion Tax office opens as fringe groups poised to demand cash, 2/21/01) y http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faith10.htm (Watts, Santorum bill introduced to energize faith-based initiative, 3/25/01)