George W. Bush’s signature faith-based initiative providing public funds to religious and community organizations remains popular, according to a report released November 16 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Based on polls by Princeton Survey Research Associates, the report (available online) is complicated but does admit to some generalizations.
Sixty-nine percent of poll respondents favor faith-based initiatives, compared to 25 percent who oppose them. Fifty-two percent believe that religious groups are better at feeding the homeless versus 21 percent for nonreligious groups and 21 percent for government agencies. The initiatives are favored more by those under age fifty than over fifty, by blacks and Hispanics more than whites, and by Democrats more than Republicans or Independents.
While those polled favored allowing public funds to be used by churches, the respondents were somewhat less favorable to aid through synagogues, Mormon churches, or Muslim mosques. Opposition to aid for “groups that encourage religious conversion” reached 63 percent. Similarly, the poll registered strong opposition to government funding for organizations that employ only “those who share their religious beliefs” (Republicans, 62 percent; Democrats, 84 percent; white evangelicals, 61 percent; white mainline Protestants, 72 percent; black Protestants, 80 percent; white Catholics, 80 percent; religiously unaffiliated, 88 percent).
As to which groups “can do the best job of providing services for the needy,” religious groups ranked better (37 percent) than nonreligious organizations (28 percent) or government agencies (25 percent). Republicans ranked religious organizations higher than Democrats (56 percent to 28 percent); white evangelicals did so over mainline Protestants, Catholics, and the unaffiliated (60 percent to 35 percent, 34 percent, and 19 percent).
Where does all this leave us one year into the Obama administration? It is probably safe to bet that faith-based initiatives will continue, but public opinion will likely insist on denying tax funding to organizations that seek to convert aid recipients or to discriminate by religion in hiring. Humanists, mainline Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and church-state separation organizations would do well to concentrate on blocking proselytizing and discriminatory employment policies in the near term.
Over the past quarter-century, according to constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley, hundreds of children have died from lack of medical care because of “faith-healing” parents (Washington Post, November 15). Most states either allow faith-healing exemptions from the law or allow “religion as a mitigating factor in sentencing” when parents are convicted of criminal neglect. One important group working to end the faith-healing exemption is the nonprofit Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty.
As I write in mid-November, two members of the C Street “Family” (exposed in Jeff Sharlet’s book The Family), Reps. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), managed to add a draconian anti-choice amendment to the House of Representatives health-care reform bill. This amendment marks the coming together of the narrow patriarchalism of Protestant fundamentalist extremists and Catholic bishops. A good term for this patriarchalism is malignant narcissism, a phrase used by former priest and diocesan chancellor Stephen Boehrer in his new book The Purple Culture (Oceanview Publishing, 2009) about the clerical sexual-abuse scandals that have cost the Catholic Church about $2 billion in payments to victims and legal fees.
But let me hasten to point out that the bishops are out of step with most Catholics, who are about as pro-choice and accepting of contraception as most other Americans. Catholic Democratic House members voted 62 to 35 against the Stupak-Pitts amendment, and Catholic Democratic women House members voted against it 16 to 2.
Invasion of the Soul Snatchers
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), frequently exposed as one of the looniest members of Congress, promotes a fundamentalist “ministry” that has been infiltrating public high schools. “You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International,” founded about six years ago by Bradlee Dean, boasts that it has reached over half a million high school students through assembly programs in a dozen states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee). Also known as “You Can Run,” the group seeks to push Christian fundamentalism in public schools, an activity clearly in violation of the U.S. and most state constitutions. At a rally in Minnesota in November, Dean blasted public schools for being religiously neutral and called liberals “criminals.”
For more than thirty years, I have been calling attention to this “invasion of the soul snatchers,” but little seems to have been done about Young Life, Campus Life, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Jerry Johnston Ministries, and similar national and local groups, although the Gideons have been stopped from handing out Bibles in many schools. Local secular humanist groups would do well to check out the policies and practices of their school districts. Any that would like to investigate this problem may contact me through this magazine.