(AgapePress) - President George W. Bush's faith-based initiative project, which will allow private and church-run programs to use tax funding in working on social problems, is getting lots of criticism from church-state separation organizations. But one legal group says the proposed program is on solid constitutional ground.
In January, President Bush visited the Fishing School, a religious-based community center in Washington, D.C., for inner-city children. While there, he outlined his plan for giving more federal money to faith-based organizations battling such social concerns as poverty, addiction, and homelessness.
"There are so many people in need," Bush said. "The good news about America is there are so many willing to serve. It's the great strength of our nation." Many of those listening responded to his statements by shouting, "Amen!"
According to Reuters News, several groups wrote an open letter to Bush recently, asking him to clarify how he plans to put his faith-based program into practice. Alluding to the possible discriminatory practice of some faith-based organizations, the letter states: "As someone committed to uniting the American people, we hope that you will agree with us and confirm your opposition to government-funded religious discrimination." Groups signing the letter included the NAACP, the ACLU, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
But Todd Young of the Southeastern Legal Foundation asserts his office has looked into the program and finds it is on solid constitutional footing and should not be challenged.
"President Bush's plan to enlist the armies of the faith-based organizations in the war on poverty, addiction, and homelessness is neither an attack on church-state separation nor an endorsement of one religion over another," Young says.
SLF President Lynn Hogue supports Young's statement, saying the Bush proposal is on "friendly constitutional ground."
"By limiting the use of public dollars to services directly relating to the health and welfare of individuals in need, the Bush proposal does not run afoul of the constitutional prohibition against endorsement of religion," Hogue says. "As Governor of Texas, Bush was able to involve private charitable and faith-based organizations in the effort to reach people in need, and to do so without violating the Constitution."
Hogue adds that most legal challenges against carefully designed public assistance programs involving private organizations are not successful. The constitutional law professor from Georgia State University also points out that government aid in the form of tax credits and grants to parents who opt out of public schools in favor of parochial schools has not been successfully challenged as a violation of the First Amendment.
Young, SLF's policy director, adds that faith-based organizations have proven they can do the job more efficiently and economically - and with better results - than can the federal government.
"The community organizations that President Bush's proposal would help are doing better work for less money than the government programs that they would replace," he says.