Nov 30, 2001

A broad array of national groups has urged President George W. Bush to postpone action on the controversial "charitable choice" provision in his "faith-based initiative."

In a joint letter to Bush today, major national labor, education, religious, civil rights and civil liberties groups asked the president not to push for passage of the most divisive aspects of the "faith-based" package at a time when Americans are striving for national unity.

Recent news media reports have indicated that some Bush advisors want to press for the administration proposal now to take advantage of the bipartisan spirit in Congress and the country. The groups signing the letter to Bush note, however, that any effort to advance the "charitable choice" provision of the faith-based package would raise religiously divisive issues and meet with strong resistance.

"People of all faiths -- and those of no religion -- are uniting together as Americans," said the joint letter. "This is no time to divide us along religious lines."

The president's "charitable choice" proposal allows churches and other ministries to receive government grants and contracts and still discriminate on religious grounds in hiring staff. In addition, the provision threatens church-state separation, exposes needy Americans to unwanted proselytism and undercuts the independence of religious organizations. (Other aspects of the faith-based plan -- such as tax incentives for donations to church-affiliated and other charities -- are supported by broad consensus and would likely pass the Senate with little opposition.)

Said the letter to Bush, "In light of the recent tragic attacks on our nation, we, the undersigned religious, civil rights, labor, education, substance abuse and health organizations, are writing to urge you to hold off on any attempt to move the 'Charitable Choice' aspect of your Faith-Based Initiative. While many of the undersigned groups support the major tax incentives you have proposed as part of this initiative, we are all strongly opposed to the religiously divisive 'Charitable Choice' provisions.

"Recent media reports have indicated that some advisors in your Administration are hoping to 'revive prospects' for the Faith-Based Initiative in the wake of the attacks, with some aides suggesting a new push for 'Charitable Choice,'" the letter continued. "While we applaud your recent efforts to unite and rally the nation and spur charitable giving to victims and communities, Charitable Choice is only a step backward toward divisiveness.

"At the core of 'Charitable Choice' are provisions that authorize religious discrimination in employment with government funds. It would allow a government-funded social service program to turn someone away from employment merely because they are the 'wrong' religion. 'We don't hire Jews' or 'we don't hire Muslims' or 'we don't hire Catholics' are not policies that should ever have a place in a Federal Government program. It would seem particularly unwise to push such a religiously divisive proposal at this time."

The letter goes on to note that the "charitable choice" provision is also controversial because it permits the proselytization of people seeking government assistance, enables new lawsuits against state and local governments, provides no new funds for programs in which religiously affiliated programs already play a role and raises constitutional concerns about the independence of houses of worship.

Concludes the letter to Bush, "We applaud you on your leadership during this crisis, and thank you for your efforts to spur charitable giving and services at this time of need. While tax incentives to further encourage charitable activity may be exactly what the country needs right now, 'Charitable Choice' is not."

Groups signing the letter to Bush include:

American Association of School AdministratorsAmerican Association of University WomenAmerican Civil Liberties UnionAmerican Counseling AssociationAmerican Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIOAmerican Federation of State, County and Municipal EmployeesAmerican Federation of TeachersAmerican Humanist AssociationAmericans for Religious LibertyAmericans United for Separation of Church and StateBaptist Joint Committee on Public AffairsCentral Conference of American RabbisChristians For Justice ActionCommunications Workers of America (CWA)Equal Partners in FaithFriends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers)General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist ChurchJewish Council for Public AffairsLeadership Conference on Civil RightsLegal Action CenterLawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under LawNAADAC, The Association for Addiction ProfessionalsNational Association of Social WorkersNational Council for Community Behavioral HealthcareNational Council of Jewish WomenNational Council on Alcoholism and Drug DependenceNational Education AssociationNational Organization for WomenNational PTANOW Legal Defense and Education FundOMB WatchPartnership for RecoveryPeople For the American WayService Employees International Union, (SEIU) AFL-CIOState Associations of Addiction ServicesTexas Faith NetworkTexas Freedom NetworkThe Center For Progressive ChristianityThe Employment ProjectThe Interfaith AllianceUnion of American Hebrew CongregationsUnitarian Universalist Association of CongregationsUnited Church of Christ, Justice and Witness MinistriesWomen of Reform Judaism