President George W. Bush today continued his efforts to rally support for his beleaguered "faith-based" initiative, giving a speech in which he urged Congress to pass a bill "before Christmas."
During a speech at the So Others Might Eat facility in Washington, D.C., Bush lauded an expected Senate bill that may emphasize tax credits for charitable giving. But he also praised the House version of the initiative, which includes several divisive features -- including a measure allowing federally funded employment discrimination.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which has spearheaded opposition to unconstitutional provisions in the White House faith-based scheme, said Bush remains on the wrong track.
"The president is going to have to make up his mind," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "He can either throw his support behind a consensus bill that encourages charitable giving, or he can back a divisive measure that funds discrimination and blurs the church-state line.
"The first option could lead to a bill being passed by Christmas," said Lynn. "The second approach will spark an all-out effort to ensure that this misguided approach goes down to defeat."
The president's initiative passed the House of Representatives in July. It has stalled in the Senate over concerns that the so-called "charitable choice" components of the initiative violate civil rights and constitutional principles. Those provisions, which are part of the House bill (H.R. 7), allow religiously based employment discrimination with tax dollars, pit houses of worship against each other in a bid for public funding and could subject needy families to unwanted efforts at religious conversion.
In today's remarks, Bush said the government should "welcome the good work of faith in our society." He added, "If faith is the integral part of a program being successful, the government ought to say 'hallelujah.'"
Responded AU's Lynn, "If the White House is prepared to embrace an approach that helps people in need while respecting the First Amendment, then we could all say 'amen.' But because the president seems wedded to an unconstitutional approach, this divisive faith-based initiative remains a bad idea whose time should never come."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.