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Religion Tax Office Opened
Religion Tax Office Opened
\RELIGION TAX\ OFFICE OPENS AS FRINGE GROUPS POISED TO DEMAND CASH
Web Posted: February 21, 2001
As President George W. Bush's White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives opened today, reports proliferated that fringe religious sects including those affiliated with cultist Rev. Sun Myung Moon and a project run by the Church of Scientology will apply for public funds in order to operate social services.
The story leads the afternoon banner on the Drudge Report, and follows reports earlier in the day from the New York Times and the St. Petersburg Times. Scientology will reportedly be asking the White House for cash to fund its drug rehab programs and a literacy outreach. Last week, in covering the marital split between actor Tom Cruise , a high profile Scientology member and wife Nicole Kidman, we mentioned a church-sponsored program known as Applied Scholastics. The outreach incorporates the teachings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. We added that the church-linked magazine \Freedom\ ran a photograph of President George H. Bush and wife Barbara at the President's Summit for America's Future flanked by John Travolta, another high-profile Hubbard follower, and Church of Scientology International executive Karen Hollander.
Bush created his new White Office by Executive Order, and denied that it would either promote religion in general, or one denominational creed over another.
\We welcome all religion,\ said Mr. Bush. \We do not impose any religion.\
While the Bush plan is aimed at mainstream denominations, many of which already receiving government grants and other public funding, the possibility that less popular, even extremist sects may demand equal access for their faith-based programs is now emerging as a real possibility -- and a vexing problem. During the presidential campaign, George W. Bush was queried by the New York Times over his faith-based partnership program, and whether, for instance, he would approve of public funding for a Church of Scientology drug rehab outreach.
\I have a problem with the teachings of Scientology being viewed on the same par as Judaism or Christianity,\ Bush replied. \That just happens to be a personal point of view. But I am interested in results. I am not focused on the process.\
Another potential suitor for the White House office could be the church operated by Korean cult evangelist Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Moon has been active on the religious right for nearly two decades. A 1977 congressional investigation tied Moon's Unification Church to the \Koreagate\ scandal which involved influence buying within the U.S. government. It also revealed that following the 1961 coup, the Korean Central Intelligence Agency began subsidizing the Moon organization to \organize and utilize\ the resources of the Unification Church in the U.S. \Moonies\ landed key jobs in Washington, DC think-tanks, and in congressional offices. Moon and his satellite fronts were also involved with key religious right projects such as the World Anti-Communist League, and the Korean preacher worked closely with conservative leaders like direct mail wizard Richard Viguerie.
Now, Moon and his church -- re-christened the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification USA -- are reportedly making preparations to obtain funding to promote abstinence programs in schools.
Stories in both the New York and St. Petersburg papers also note that the Hare Krishna sect has already received \millions of dollars in government contracts\ to operate homeless shelters and halfway houses for parolees over the last twenty years. The participation by these non-mainstream religious groups could raise problems for the new White Office, and its director John DiIulio. The administration has gone to considerable lengths to assemble a coalition of ecumenical groups, and welcomed Jewish, Christian and Islamic leaders into photo opportunities with Mr. Bush to convey a \picture of strength and diversity.\
How far will the warm and fuzzy glow of religious cooperation really go? Already, there are reports of conflict, and potential problems. On February 12, representatives from the Anti-Defamation League met with faith-based funding czar John DiIulio, and were reportedly told that the White House would not be providing grants the Nation of Islam, which has a variety of potential outreaches hungry for subsidies, including a security service which has won contracts for guarding Chicago housing projects. The ADL has been at odds with NOI head Louis Farrakhan, and considers the black Islamic sect to be anti-Semitic.
During his presidential campaign, Bush also expressed doubts concerning the Nation of Islam, saying \I don't see how we can allow public dollars to fund programs where spite and hate is the core of the message.\
Evidence continues to emerge that some religious groups have every intention of stepping up their proselytizing efforts, and blending their doctrinal message into faith-based social programs as the Bush funding pours in. Times reporter Laurie Goodstein described a halfway house operated in Philadelphia, Pa. by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, where there appears to be a minimal religious presence. David D. Dobson, executive director for the group's programs in the area, noted \Being a Krishna organization, in the early days there was a lot of prejudice and there was pressure to tone down anything religious. We certainly put in the closet a lot of our religious philosophy.\ A house supervisor described the program as \totally secular,\ and contrasted it with a Salvation Army program which also took public funds,
\There were chapel services every Sunday,\ he said, noting that residents were required to attend devotions and Bible study daily. \They were trying to get you back to God.\
One might ask where any controls and oversight were on the Salvation Army at the time. Dobson told the paper, though, that thanks to the new White House funding initiative, he \expects to add Krishna spirituality to his programs\ by hiring clergy and \teaching about the history of non-Western religions.\
Dobson added: \We're not just here to educate and feed people, we see people as spirit souls. Our goal is to help them spiritually develop.\
Strangely, groups that are already at the public trough but operate what are described as \secular\ programs are raising concerns over the Bush faith-based initiative. \Lutheran, Catholic and Jewish groups are raising concerns about potential religious discrimination and coercion, echoing arguments from civil libertarian quarters,\ notes a dispatch on the afternoon Associated Press wire. One example is the \thicket of questions that we look forward to discussing,\ according to Diana Avi, vice president for public policy for United Jewish Communities.
Joanne Negstad, president of Lutheran Services -- a nationwide umbrella for 280 groups -- voiced concerns about religious discrimination in both hiring and services. \That really bothers us,\ she told AP.
Religious and political groups, even the news media, still reflect confusion over the whole issue of government aid to faith groups. For decades, public money has been pouring in to the coffers of denominations which operate a wide range of social services. Groups with religious affiliation have largely circumvented legal problems, though, by establishing spin-off, non-profit corporate entities; minimizing or eliminating an explicit religious message; adhering to anti-discrimination statutes in issues of hiring; and, at least on the surface, have avoided using religion as a litmus test for eligibility for those wishing to receive help.
The 1996 welfare reform act provision sponsored by then-Missouri Senator John Ashcroft began undermining those few facile protections governing religious groups that received government funding. The measure made it easier for churches and other faith-based organizations to compete in obtaining public money in order to operate social programs without having to compromise or diminish their \religious character.\
Many religious social programs such as Catholic Charities are already married to the public treasury. According to Independent Sector, a coalition of non-profit and philanthropic groups, nearly 90 percent of the nation's 353,000 churches, synagogues and mosques already operate \community programs\ of some sort. Most are on a modest scale, and only about 1% receive government funding. That could change, especially if the Bush initiate proves too tempting, and enforcement of any funding violations is lax. In defending his program, Bush has said that the money could not be used for overt religious worshipping or proselytizing, those seeking help could not be turned away for religious reasons and that \secular alternatives\ must be available.
Critics charge that enforcement of existing anti-discrimination policies is already lax, and that current funding promotes religion. They also point out that many of the faith-based groups the Bush initiative is targeting see their social service outreach as a religious, not secular mission.
;\Our primary purpose is evangelizing to win souls,\ says Dan Taylor of the Union Rescue Mission in Cumberland, Maryland. All residents of the shelter must attend evening worship services. \The charitable things we do are like an aside,\ adds Taylor. \We not only meet their physical needs, we meet their spiritual needs. How you could separate one from other I don't really know.\
The pressure is more subtle at a Roman Catholic parish outreach in the Philadelphia suburb of Wynnewood. There, Rev. Edward Rix says that he does not see any problem in separating the social and religious activities of his church. Referring to a clothing drive for the needy, Rix declared: \It's a service, but it's also a way of letting people know that our church is here. If they want to come and worship with us, they are invited.\
Attitudes about the faith-based initiative may change, though, as Scientologists, Moonies and others on the fringes of the American religious landscape step up to the treasury window. Think \faith-based,\ and most Americans still conjure an image of a mainstream denomination helping the homeless by handing out sandwiches, or providing a bunk bed on a cold night. In fact, many religious outreaches pressure the needy to conform to a religious doctrine. What happens when other, less popular sects become involved?
\One of the big issues that people haven't talked about much is that some very controversial religions could get active in this,\ warns Philip Jenkins, the author of \Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in American History.\ \Running a faith-based program raises the question, what faiths are out of bounds?\ Jenkins declared. \Either you fund all faith groups, even groups you radically don't like, or you fund none... How do you distinguish between a Methodist and a Moonie? The answer is, you can't.\