Cover Story

Rolling the Dice

"Rolling the Dice" Continued...

Issue: "Rolling the dice," Aug. 4, 2001

That deal stopped the bleeding on the right but it didn't create any enthusiasm among many faith-based poverty-fighters. Some religious groups were reluctant to bite the hand that they hope will feed them; their comments to administration officials hid their concern. But only 4 percent of evangelical homeless shelter leaders surveyed by WORLD (June 23 cover story) favored Mr. DiIulio's grantmaking emphasis. Four out of five groups said they would not segment their programs into "religious" and "nonreligious" parts to become eligible for government aid, if that again became a stipulation.

Whether enthusiastic or not, many conservative and Christian organizations agreed to support H.R. 7, in part out of a desire to support the principles enunciated by President Bush. Ken Smitherman, president of the Association of Christian Schools International, emphasized the importance of "recognizing that faith-based organizations have a place at the table as entities that meet a public need." Lou Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, said that H.R. 7 has some problems, but "History will say it's more significant that we were at the table than what we got."

By mid-June H.R. 7's political problem was not conservative dismay but the failure of the Beltway strategy of appeasing liberals by weakening the faith-based initiative. H.R. 7's stipulation that the federal government would not pay for worship, religious teaching, or proselytizing was not enough for those on the left, because-as George W. Bush had suggested-Washington could still pay for food, utilities, or other material costs of a program engaged in those activities. Meanwhile, James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, remained standoffish, contending that H.R. 7 as constituted would not pass muster in the Supreme Court.

House and White House leaders considered an embarrassing legislative defeat likely, unless they agreed to further weakening of the bill. Under such pressure, the administration tossed overboard the April agreement, and the Gore-DiIulio segmenting approach became officially part of H.R. 7, along with a "secondary opt-out." H.R. 7 already protected religious liberty by stating that if a recipient of services from a faith-based group objected to the program on religious grounds, the government would make sure that an alternative was available. But a new clause was born in June: If a person comes to a faith-based group and doesn't like the religious flavor, that group has to provide a secular alternative.

Heather Humphries of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise is one of many experts working with faith-based groups who considers that revision to H.R. 7 "a complete loser," one that "would destroy our programs." Students at a university are free to take or not take elective courses, but if they had the right, once they enrolled in a course, to refuse to come to class, write papers, or take exams, most courses would be destroyed. Mrs. Humphries noted, "Once the Administration agreed to the opt out, fighting for direct grants seemed untenable to us."

Some Christian conservative activists also were furious about the amendment. Star Parker, president of the Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education (a group of 500 independent, inner-city churches and charity organizations), fought the requirement to segment religious activities from others: "You can't gut proselytizing from religious-run programs and expect them to work.... The most successful of these programs are those that incorporate their religion throughout the curriculum of the program."

William Murray of the Religious Freedom Coalition said his group "cannot support the President's Faith-Based Initiative if recipients are allowed to dictate to the provider which parts of the program they will accept. People should be able to choose from a variety of programs, but once a person chooses a Christian program there should not be an 'opt out' provision that allows the recipient to dictate a custom program to the provider." Mr. Murray, the Christian son of the late atheist leader Madalyn Murray O'Hair, concluded, "'Opt out' is just a plain stupid giveaway to Barry Lynn [Americans United for Separation of Church and State] and the far left."

But wait, say TeamBush sources: Carl Esbeck, senior counsel in the Department of Justice, drafted that "giveaway" and many other provisions of H.R. 7, and Mr. Esbeck does not give away anything lightly. The Traditional Values Coalition's Mr. Sheldon argues that H.R. 7's provisions will work: "All it takes is a little bit of creativity." One executive close to the White House said, "Esbeck is a master at writing vague language that he knows how to get around. Working with Carl is like having a good tax lawyer. What he sets up doesn't always work, but you know there's a plan there."

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