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 Administrators
American Association of University Women
American Civil Liberties Union
American Counseling Association
American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
American Federation of Teachers
American Humanist Association
Americans for Religious Liberty
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs
Central Conference of American Rabbis
Christians For Justice Action
Communications Workers of America (CWA)
Equal Partners in Faith
Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers)
General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
Legal Action Center
Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals
National Association of Social Workers
National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
National Education Association
National Organization for Women
NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund
Partnership for Recovery
People For the American Way
Service Employees International Union, (SEIU) AFL-CIO
State Associations of Addiction Services
Texas Faith Network
Texas Freedom Network
The Center For Progressive Christianity
The Employment Project
The Interfaith Alliance
Union of American Hebrew Congregations
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Women of Reform Judaism
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.