April 20, 2006

AU Applauds "Faith Czar's" Departure From White House

I just received the following information from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. I still have a very hard time believing that I live in a country with a faith-based governmental office.

AU's Lynn Says 'Faith-Based' Point Man Was First Amendment Foe, Urges President Bush To Shut Down 'Faith-Based' Office

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today applauded the departure of White House "Faith Czar" James Towey and urged President George W. Bush to close the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

"Jim Towey has waged an unrelenting war against church-state separation," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "He played a key role in using the 'faith-based' initiative for improper partisan purposes, and he did little or nothing to see that Americans get the social-service help they need from their government. That's a sad legacy to leave.

"Towey was the Bush administration's point man in trying to roll back civil rights laws barring religious discrimination in hiring in government-funded programs," Lynn continued. "I am pleased that he failed to push that terrible idea through Congress."

Towey and other administration figures have worked hard to allow church-run government programs to discriminate in hiring on religious grounds. In June 2003, Towey's office even issued a 12-page booklet, "Protecting the Civil Rights and Religious Liberty of Faith-Based Organizations: Why Religious Hiring Rights Must Be Preserved," that promotes this kind of hiring discrimination.

Americans United charged that the record shows the faith-based initiative is a practical as well as civil rights and civil liberties failure.

In February, the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy reported that direct federal grants to faith-based charities actually fell from 2002 to 2004. The non-partisan research group said the number of grantees rose, but due to funding cuts, the available pool of money shrank by $230 million in the 99 federal grant-making programs studied.

Americans United urged the president to close the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

"With Towey's resignation in hand, the president should do the American people a favor and close the misguided faith-based office," Lynn said. "The administration's faith-based initiative has always been about funneling public funds to favored political constituencies, not helping the poor. In the process, the White House has trampled the First Amendment principle of church-state separation and jeopardized important civil rights laws."

Lynn criticized Towey's tactic of trying to intimidate critics of the faith-based initiative.

"When civil rights and civil liberties leaders criticized the administration's faith-based plan, Towey would respond with name-calling," said Lynn. "It's a tired, but annoying strategy to defend a constitutionally suspect program."

In early 2005 not long after Bush's re-election, Towey vowed before a Washington, D.C., gathering to fight "secular extremists" who oppose the administration's scheme to fund religion and allow government-funded job discrimination.

A couple of years earlier, Towey told National Public Radio that legislation containing the administration's faith-based initiative had languished in Congress because debate on it had been "held hostage by some extremist groups that have a view that the public square should be sanitized of all religious influence."

He groused to the Boston Globe that the faith-based initiative had failed in Congress due to "extremist activity" of groups such as Americans United and the NAACP.

In fact, a large number of religious, educational, civil rights and civil liberties groups have opposed core provisions of the faith-based initiative. The General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, the president's own denomination, opposed the initiative because of the employment discrimination issue and the church-state problems.

Towey, who has served since 2002 as assistant to the president and director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, will become the 16th president of Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., effective July 1.