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Should the Government Help Fund Faith-Based Charities?Aired January 29, 2001 - 7:30 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Good evening, and welcome to CROSSFIRE, and "holy war" in Washington -- a war launched today when President Bush created a new White House office to channel -- help channel billions of dollars in federal funds to religious social charities or so-called "faith-based organizations."
"Compassion is the work of a nation, not just the government," said the president defending his executive order. Bush's move, a major campaign promise, came as no surprise, but has still sparked a litany of opposition. Some civil rights warning, it would reward religious groups that discriminate against members of other religions.
Barry Lynn, one of our guests tonight, head of Americans for Separation for Church and State, went even further, accusing the president of "giving a vast payback to the religious right for help in his election."
That sets the stage for a major battle starting right here on CROSSFIRE: Should the government be giving money to churches and should churches be accepting money and strings attached from government?
Tonight, another one of those double-headers: Tucker Carlson is back, sitting in as co-host on the right -- Tucker.
TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Mr. Goldsmith, not all the criticism of this plan comes from the secular left. Much of it comes from people concerned about the influence on religion from government. I want to read to you an editorial that appeared recently in the "Kansas City Star." It says...
"With tax money inevitably comes federal oversight, regulations control. What church, synagogue or mosque wants to hand over to the government its freedom to operate the way it feels divinely directed?"
It strikes me as a solid point -- with money does come control. Will religion be tainted by money it accepts from the federal government?
STEPHEN GOLDSMITH, FAITH & NOT-FOR-PROFIT INITIATIVES: Taking your question and the comment before -- let me just back up a short step and express what the president said today. He said, very clearly, two different things: one, he wanted to set up ways people can be encouraged to contribute more directly, using the tax code and encouraging philanthropy.
Second, he said, that we should remove the obstacles that discriminate against religious providers -- he didn't say we should fund churches or fund religion. He said that, if a faith-based provider wants to do domestic violence shelters or feed the poor or provide access to Medicaid or children's health insurance, they should have a right to do it. So the answer becomes, no money for religious purposes, everybody that needs help should have either a secular door or a faith-based door to walk through.
So, my answer on behalf -- when I was mayor of Indianapolis, we did a lot of these and many of the Evangelical churches said, look Mayor, we appreciate the opportunity, we want nothing to do with you -- we don't want to get tangled up in the regulations.
CARLSON: The obstacles you're referring to are obstacles of funding from the federal government. So the question remains, once these churches do receive money from the federal government, with that money, will come regulations, inevitably?
GOLDSMITH: And my response is, that choice, that objection -- should be made by the church, it should not be made by the government -- saying look, we will fund everybody except those who are religious, so a church says, no money, no strings, more power to them, but remember, the money is only going to fund the shelter care or the food, it's not going to fund religion. Many organizations set up separate 501(c)3's
CARLSON: But it's like crack -- someone hands it to you, you don't have to take it, but once you do, you are addicted.
GOLDSMITH: I think you will find, particularly, a number of urban churches act to feed people in their neighborhood. They separate that function from the...
PRESS: Mr. Mayor, let me get this straight. We elect the conservative president of the United States, and one of his first actions is to create a new government bureaucracy and try to break down the First Amendment of the Constitution by channeling federal money to religious organizations. Is this what you think people voted for?
GOLDSMITH: I think I probably quarrel with both of your statements. What he said today, and the executive orders he signed, is we are going to create an effort of the federal government to go through, regulation by regulation, and remove those that prevent the Salvation Army from fully and fairly competing for shelter money. I don't believe that's the same as setting up a separate bureaucracy, and secondly, there is no money in part of the president's proposal today that will go to religion. In fact, it can't go to religion.
PRESS: First of all, it is a new White House office with a new executive director, John (ph). He is going to have a staff. There are all these federal regulations they're going to look at. It's going require a lot of bureaucrats to cut through that red tape. That's a new bureaucracy, right? GOLDSMITH: It's a pretty strange "Alice in Wonderland" world when effort to remove regulations is seen as the regulation. There are prohibitions today that should not exist that discriminate against faith-based providers.
PRESS: But let's cut right through -- isn't Barry Lynn correct? That the president know this is unconstitutional, that the Supreme Court's have never, never approved federal funding to churches, and the only reason he's doing it, is to pay back Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell for their strong support during the election, because without them, he wouldn't be here.
GOLDSMITH: I'd say, that's wrong for a number of reasons, but first of all, there is a fair amount of money today that goes to faith-based providers -- Catholic Social Services is a preeminent high quality provider that uses a lot of federal money. There is no effort to fund religion. So I think that that effort to say that it is a pay back is silly -- we should be able to reach out, and in fact, if you truly believe in the 1st Amendment, the idea that anybody can provide help to the poor, except those that believe in God is really quite a false distinction to make.
CARLSON: You have assured us -- by my count, five times -- that no money that goes to these groups will be used to proselytize -- how are you going to make certain that that's true? Are the guards going to be on the scene to make certain that nothing goes to preaching?
GOLDSMITH: What we have today, is money for homeless shelters, and those who are religious, and those who are secular, should have right to bid for it, and an individual that needs shelter, should have choices between religious and secular ones, and the money should be used to pay for the beds and should paid for the food. And a secular provider should be accountable for how they use money and a faith- based provider should be accountable but today there are lots of people -- urban communities -- that need help and the church is an asset, and if it opens up its door to shelter those who are abused, then it ought to have the right to compete...
CARLSON: But again, at some point, the retail end of this, somebody employed by the federal government will have be to there to make certain the money doesn't go to preaching purposes, for proselytizing. Who will do that?
GOLDSMITH: I think that the same rules that apply to competitive bidding today for secular providers will apply to those for religious providers. And there's a lot of experience. We are raising all of these kind of awful scenarios when in fact we have a history in this country of faith-based providers allowing assistance to flow through to those in need all across the country. But they can -- as you know, the Congress allowed it to be done for welfare benefits, but not for housing benefits, so we will clear away those obstacles.
PRESS: Let me suggest: to me, the problem is not with the government -- I do think it's unconstitutional. I think the problem is with the churches. You keep saying, they will have set up a separate operation. So I'm a head of a church, and you are the government. Are you telling me I can have your money, but if I want your money, what I am going to have to do, is even though I believe in Jesus, and I want people to be saved though Jesus, I want people to come to get a new job by coming to Jesus -- what you're telling me is, I've got to set up a separate program, put my religion aside, and become secular, in order to take money -- in other words, I have to become what I'm not in order to get your lousy federal buck -- why don't I tell you to take your money and shove it?
GOLDSMITH: More power to you, but what you described is a situation today -- you can compete for federal money if you take down the cross. What the president said today is you should be able to compete for federal money, and if -- I don't think that the government should decide on behalf of the church, the synagogue, or the mosque where they should be able to bid. They should be able to decide -- that's what today's executive order would do.
PRESS: OK, the battle...
GOLDSMITH: This is two again one.
PRESS: Yes! You got it, but you're a brave man -- first day.
CARLSON: Coming up next, we continue the debate with Reverend Barry Lynn from Americans Unite For the Separation of Church and State, and the Reverend Eugene Rivers of the National Ten Point Leadership Foundation -- stay with us.
CARLSON: President George W. Bush made good on a campaign promise this morning. He announced a creation of White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. Soon, the administration hopes federal dollars will go directly to religious groups that provide social services to the needy. Supporters of the plan call it an effective way to help the poor, the homeless, and the addicted. To opponents, it's a battering ram aimed at the wall between government and religion.
Joining us, the Reverend Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State; and the Reverend Eugene Rivers, co-chair of the National Ten Point Leadership Foundation -- Bill
PRESS: Reverend Rivers, good to have you here. I want to pick up where we were talking to Steve Goldsmith. You know as well as I, it's a fact: there is not one dollar of federal money that comes without a string attached to it, and there's a good woman out in Pittsburgh by the name of Sister Connie Driskel (ph) -- I saw quoted today in the "Pittsburgh Post Gazette" -- yesterday, rather. Here is what she said,
"The only way I would take government funding is over my very cold dead body. We simply don't like the government. We don't like their interference and all their nonsense -- you can't do this, you can't do that."
PRESS: She is right, Reverend. I mean, why go through this? Why jump through those hoops?
REVEREND EUGENE RIVERS, NATIONAL TEN POINT LEADERSHIP FOUNDATION: Listen. A couple of things. Number one, it's a free country, so I applaud her thoughts. Secondly, it's a decision. What we're talking about, is the use of sacred institutions to serve secular purposes, and the real bottom line for those of us who work and live among poor is not religion, but results. So on the planet Earth, where most of the poor live, beyond the belt way, right? We are concerned about mobilizing those institutions that have a geographic proximity to the needs and problems of the poor -- that's bottom line.
There are two kinds of discussions: There is the inside the belt way discussion, with the political hemophiliacs will freak out at the idea that someone might be mobilizing institutions for the poor to help the poor. That's the bottom line, especially for the black community.
PRESS: You may try to frame it that way. But, with all due respect, Reverend, I think the Constitution applies outside the belt way on it's important question. What you do is wonderful and there are a lot of very wonderful, generous people that will support you and support other organizations -- I keep coming back to, what it means when are you getting federal dollars -- you know what it means. You have to do paperwork, you have to accept conditions. As Tucker indicated earlier, you will have oversight, and your going to have scrutiny, and then you will have to fill out the damn reports. Aren't you better off not doing it?
RIVERS: No. No. That's like the right-wing argument about affirmative action that says, well, we don't want you colors to have affirmative action. because it diminishes your self confidence. The reality is: faith-based institutions that want federal assistance to serve as secular purposes
PRESS: Give up their faith.
RIVERS: No. That's a false dichotomy. Not giving up their faith, it's recognizing that there are conditions you have to satisfy, and if you want to play, this is how you do it. Bottom line.
CARLSON: I think the Reverend Rivers raises some excellent points, Barry Lynn, and what about this idea that the poor, the addicted, the homeless don't have time for airy arguments like this. The fact is, we don't just suspect that faith-based programs work best, we know it.
BARRY LYNN, AMERICANS UNITED FOR SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE: Actually we don't know it.
CARLSON: Actually we do know it. I'll give you an example.
PRESS: Slow down! One at a time! Tucker.
CARLSON: Let me give you one example: prison fellowship which is obviously a faith-based Christian outreach program in prisons, privately run, has been shown to be more effective than any other single program in rehabilitating prisoners -- why not federally fund it? It works.
LYNN: First of all, I don't happen to believe you can prove there's long term advantage to those sacred programs, but I think the real thing about Planet Earth is that folks that are living on it, can't turn their religion off whenever there's a federal dollar in their program -- in other words, they can't say, OK, we're going to bring people to Jesus, which I think both of us would like to do, but we can't turn it off when we're using a federal dollar in some kind of program financed by the federal government. That's one of reasons why the integrity of the church as well as that of the government is at stake in this debate.
The best thing government can always do for religion is to simply leave it alone -- leave it be the vital force in our communities that Reverend Rivers and many of the rest of us have tried to make it during the course of lives.
CARLSON: I guess I'm missing the scary part here -- all sorts of organizations with philosophically unyielding points of view receive federal money -- I'm thinking of AIDS organizations, the Boy Scouts, universities. The only difference here that I see is that churches use the word God. What in the world is so scary about that?
LYNN: The difference is the Constitution itself. It says the government can't promote religion, but it can promote ideas about all these other issues you just mentioned -- that's OK. This is not. But fundamentally, this is what's so scary. Never in the history of our country has a president gone and tried to expand a program that affirmatively allows religious bigots to get money -- that is to say, someone can take tax dollars from this program, set up an institution in their place of worship, and then say to someone coming in for a job there, I'm sorry, we don't hire Baptists or Catholics. How can any one, a person committed to civil rights, support a program that affirmatively allows this kind of discrimination.
CARLSON: We don't know that.
LYNN: We do know that.
LYNN: Trust me. It will be there, because he's also said, Bill, over the course of the campaign, he says, now, we will give this to faith-based organizations, but we're not going to give it to, say, the nation of Islam because they are too hateful. Now, is the federal government going to decide which organizations are too hateful? Is Bob Jones University too hateful? I think they are.
RIVERS: The nation of Islam received federal assistance by way of government contracts to do security. So let's say...
(CROSSTALK) RIVERS: Then, there is a conceptual flaw in the argument which revolves around the false dichotomy between turning off faith and receiving assistance to serve secular ends. It's a false by clarification. I don't have to proselytize to give someone some soup in a building that happens to be a church.
PRESS: I want to give you a real concrete example. The fact is, they do -- let's go to Texas. The governor likes this program because they do it in Texas. There's a job -- there's a program in Texas called Jobs Partnership. It gets state money in Texas. They buy Bibles, the applicants that come in to that program have to study scripture, and their goal is: it says, to find employment through relationship with Jesus Christ. Now, as admirable as that is, what is the government doing funding that Bible school?
RIVERS: Let's talk about that.
PRESS: Jobs for Jesus.
RIVERS: I would not -- I would not make as a precondition for assisting someone in getting employment -- the fact that you had to read the Bible. Although, I'm partial to the book. So, my argument is that look, are we making the claim that there won't be mistakes made? No! Let me finish -- the bottom line is this: if you have a program such as one you referred to in Texas, that in my judgment, step over the line, they should be challenged.
RIVERS: ...which is the exception that would prove the rule.
PRESS: Let me follow up this. That's the essence of the program. The whole belief is, is these people get jobs by establishing relationship with Jesus, so if anybody comes in there and says, I happen to be a Muslim, I happen to be a Jew or I happen to be a nonbeliever, they show them the door. Again, you are encouraging the government to support and pay for discrimination.
RIVERS: Wrong! Because my argument is, is that the program you just described is one I would take exception to and challenge. If you block a person from coming in to receive assistance and the assistance is tied to the fact I got to read the Bible, I would say, that's an unfair position. That it should not be supported -- let's not make a blanket statement where we lift up one exception and then generalize across a very wide array of programs which have much more... LYNN: There are other lawsuits filed, including one we filed in Kentucky. What I'm saying is, I don't remember that are you supporting our claim to fight the job discrimination against the woman in Kentucky who was discovered to be a lesbian -- and therefore was fired from a state-funded Baptist home for children. I don't remember you coming to her defense and saying that's another example. Let me finish: the point is, the examples we have got are the examples we find -- most people are not in a position and you know this, because you work with these people -- these are not people that say, let's call up some civil liberties lawyer, we think our rights have been violated. They are people that put up with things absolutely unconscionable in this country, including efforts to convert people who do not want to be converted: in order words, to get the soup, you have to get the blessing also...
RIVERS: Barry, tone it down! We are overstating it.
CARLSON: This pertains to you as an ordained minister -- now, a big part of the plan involves tax deductions. It strikes me though, as consistent with your argument, that people should not be able to deduct money they give to any religious organizations and furthermore, why should they be tax-exempt?
LYNN: Actually, if I had my way, they wouldn't be. They are getting the protection of government. Now, they're even getting money from government but they want to be tax-exempt, but we're not going to fight about it.
LYNN: What I'm worried about is forcing people to go to church to get benefits which they are entitled... . (CROSSTALK)
LYNN: Religious bigotry being financed with your and my tax dollars.
RIVERS: In the black community, folks serve folks and in 30 years of doing the business, I have never crossed an example in the black community where assistance helping -- one's brother or sister was ever tied to conversion, so what you should do, is disaggregate your generalization and talk about the specific groups to which you really refer, because in the black community, that has never been...
PRESS: I'm co-host of the show.
George Bush was touted as the one Republican on the face of the Earth that can get votes from the American-African community -- he got a measly 8 percent, and J.C. Watts has told him -- reported in "The Wall Street Journal" this morning: President Bush, the way you get those blacks the next time around, is work with ministers and preachers, give money to their churches, that's what this is all about -- this is George Bush trying to steal African-American votes for his next go around.
RIVERS: Are you asking or telling me?
PRESS: I'm asking. I want you to admit it. What is going on? RIVERS: There was a presumption that black people were the prize, disposable property of the Democrats -- let's really talk about it. There was the presumption that black people were to stay on the plantation of the Democratic party, and as a result, were misled by the leadership into sticking 96 percent of their eggs in one basket. The basket got knocked off the table. You asked me and I'm telling you! The Democrats presume that black people were on the plantation and they're private property.
PRESS: Quick last word -- we are out of time.
LYNN: George Bush gets a lot of benefit from this -- he thinks he can bribe these churches of America with this program. He can't, because most churches are going to do what Nancy Reagan said about drugs. Just say no. It won't work.
PRESS: Just beginning of the debate.
PRESS: Amen to that.
PRESS: Thank you for being here. Reverend Carlson and I will be back with closing comments coming right up.
PRESS: Tucker, I have to tell you. This is one issue in which both George Bush and Al Gore were wrong -- I volunteer for a lot of these kinds of organizations. They are better off with no government money.
CARLSON: That might be right, but the idea that God loves you is an incredible scary message. The world is falling apart. Listen to Barry Lynn. You would literally think that the infidels were at the door.
PRESS: God loves you isn't scary. But that God wants government money that is scary. From the left, I'm Bill Press, and don't forget, Tucker Carlson and I will continue the debate at the "THE SPIN ROOM" -- our guests tonight is New York Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler.
CARLSON: From the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow evening for another edition of CROSSFIRE.
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