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September 5, 2002

Bush Sidesteps Congress; Works to Fund Houses of Worship

Listed in: Separation of Church and State, NJDC News, Press Releases

Washington, DC: According to recent reports by The Associated Press and The Washington Post, the Bush Administration is working to swiftly write regulations that will funnel federal funds directly to houses of worship while expressly permitting employment discrimination using those tax dollars - despite deep concerns expressed by members of Congress. A Tuesday Associated Press article notes, "Acting without congressional approval to implement President Bush's stalled 'faith-based initiative,' five Cabinet agencies are writing rules into federal law that lawmakers have balked at. The rules will help churches and other religious groups obtain millions of federal social service dollars with few strings attached. ...HHS officials say there's no problem using tax dollars for a program in which prayer is central. Congress has refused to endorse that position, which is hotly disputed among Americans." The Washington Post echoed these reports on Saturday, adding, "The administration also plans to stage seminars around the country over the next seven months to teach more than 5,000 religious groups how to use current law to win federally funded contracts. Although critics contend that Bush's faith-based measure will blur the separation of church and state, his aides said that it remains one of his most important goals."

"These efforts to circumvent Congress are deeply unwise, as they tamper with America's rich heritage of religious freedom," said National Jewish Democratic Council Executive Director Ira N. Forman. "Among other things, the Associated Press article makes clear that the Bush Administration is bent on changing existing regulations to permit employment discrimination while hiring and firing using federal dollars. This is wrong, and it defies the will of many in Congress. And in the case of the Department of Education, the Administration's interpretation even flies directly in the face of a carefully-crafted congressional compromise.

"The steps that the administration is taking would effectively diminish the wall separating church and state - the very wall that provides religious liberty to every American. Federal tax dollars should not be used to fund sectarian programs that feature prayer and other religious observance as the core of the program. One American should not be asked to subsidize another American's faith. And when government funds start flowing, government interference in matters of faith will not be far behind - and this threatens the historic independence of America's religious institutions. Maintaining a clear separation between church and state is good for the practice of religion in America, and good for our form of government as well.

"President Bush correctly said in July, 'Our government should not fear faith in our society.' This is certainly true; but people of faith in America have everything to fear when our government begins encroaching on our religious freedom. Congress should do everything possible to closely examine the impact of these rules and, where possible, work to instruct federal agencies that they cannot circumvent the will of Congress."