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Reform Jewish Movement Blasts Expansion of President's Faith-Based Initiative

Saperstein: By expanding his Faith-Based Initiative, President Bush has bypassed both Congress and the Constitution, promoting government-funded discrimination and engaging the nation in a divisive legal and political battle while there is little evidence to demonstrate that faith-based programs are more effective than government social services.

Contact:Alexis Rice or Randi Levine 202-387-2800

WASHINGTON, December 12, 2002 - In response to President George W. Bush's announcement of the expansion of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives today, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, released the following statement:

Today, President Bush announced his intention to circumvent both Congress and the Constitution by expanding his Faith-Based Initiative through executive order. His goal of mobilizing the religious community to help meet the needs of the poor is admirable. The means he has chosen are ill advised, will undermine religious autonomy, and will do little to help the poor. In particular, government funding of sectarian social services creates serious policy and constitutional dilemmas. The last Congress began an important debate about the President's Faith-Based Initiative. We urge the President to allow that debate to continue rather than short circuit it by executive fiat.

The Faith-Based Initiative endorses religion, violating the First Amendment of the Constitution, and authorizes direct funding of pervasively sectarian institutions, which the Supreme Court has never approved. Our nation's separation of church and state has allowed religion to flourish and has spared us the intense sectarian competition for limited public funding likely to result from the expansion of the Faith-Based Initiative.

The expansion of the Faith-Based Initiative threatens the autonomy of religious institutions. With government money comes intrusive government rules, regulations, and monitoring, which may entice religious groups to compromise their consciences for the sake of the public dole. By opening up our nation's limited funding for social services to America's hundreds of thousands of houses of worship, millions of dollars will be diverted from, and thus weaken existing providers. Without a national commitment to substantially increase funding to support social service providers, there is no guarantee that one more needy person will be helped by this initiative. Additionally, those seeking aid may be forced to either submit to religious coercion or go without food, shelter, or other services on which they depend.

Furthermore, President Bush's announced regulatory changes blatantly authorize government funded discrimination. The notion that a government-funded social service program run by a Protestant church could place a job notice in the newspaper reading "Jews, Catholics, Muslims need not apply" or "No unmarried mothers will be hired" is profoundly troubling to many in the religious community, on Capitol Hill, and according to an April 2001 Pew Forum poll, 78% of the American public.

Religious institutions play a vital role in helping to meet the basic needs of Americans. We are ready to work with President Bush and Congress on the wide range of public-religious partnerships that are cooperative, constructive, and constitutional. However, direct government funding of religious institutions compromises the character of houses of worship, the religious rights of social service recipients and taxpayers, and the diversity and liberty of religion in our nation. By expanding his Faith-Based Initiative, President Bush has bypassed both Congress and the Constitution, promoting government-funded discrimination and engaging the nation in a divisive legal and political battle while there is little evidence to demonstrate that faith-based programs are more effective than government social services.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) , whose over 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes over 1800 Reform rabbis .



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