Bush's Faith-Based Initiative Is an Assault on the Wall Between Church and State
By Alex Epstein (San Francisco Chronicle, June 14, 2004)
President Bush is very vocal about his religious beliefs; he likes to preach publicly about "the power of faith" and "the vital place of faith in the life of our nation." This does not bother most Americans, who believe that while the President personally wants to promote religion, he certainly recognizes that this is not the province of government--that we must maintain, in Jefferson's terms, "a wall of separation between church and state." But Bush's recently resurrected call for "Faith-Based Initiatives" is the latest piece of evidence that he intends to tear down that wall.
Of course, the President denies any church-state impropriety in doling billions of tax dollars to religious organizations for charitable activities; he says he is just ending the welfare state's "history of discrimination against faith-based groups." But Bush's justification for Faith-Based Initiatives reveals their actual purpose: "Welfare policy," he explains, "will not solve the deepest problems of the spirit. . .. No government policy can put hope in people's hearts or a sense of purpose in people's lives. That is done when someone, some good soul, puts an arm around a neighbor and says, 'God loves you, and I love you, and you can count on us both.'" In other words, the government is bankrolling religious organizations because they "help the needy" not only materially but also spiritually--by exposing them to religion. Thus, we can expect that Bush's taxpayer-funded "armies of compassion" will not only supervise Midnight Basketball games for "at risk youth," but also exhort the youngsters to save their souls by adopting the teachings of Jesus, Yahweh, Allah, or (depending on the government's commitment to "inclusiveness") David Koresh.
Bush's new government establishment designed to help propagate religion is in direct violation of a Constitution which says that the government "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." Furthermore, Faith-Based Initiatives violate the right to free speech of the many taxpayers who are now forced to support the spread of ideas they oppose.
Clearly, Bush believes there are higher priorities than upholding the Constitution and protecting individual rights: namely, using his Presidency to promote religion. "For too long," he declares, "some in government believed there was no room for faith in the public square."
This is exactly wrong. The truth is that for too long (and in too many places) people in government have believed that there is "room for faith in the public square"--i.e., that it is proper to use the government in the service of religion; this view has been held by everyone from the kings of the Dark Ages to the Ayatollahs of today. The Founding Fathers were the first to repudiate this view by establishing a government devoted solely to the protection of individual freedom, in which religion is constitutionally relegated to a private matter. The value of keeping religion out of government is not simply that it leaves people of various religions free to say the prayers and practice the rituals of their choice; more fundamentally, by prohibiting the government from forcing people to support or obey the dictates of religion, it protects freedom as such.
For years the separation of church and state has been under attack by the Religious Right, which has called for bans on pornography, oral sex between consenting adults, and abortions--in opposition to the right to free speech, the right to liberty, and a woman's right to her body. Such attempts to legislate religion have not had much success--until now.
Witness the Bush-led crusade to destroy a crucial scientific field: human cloning--including "therapeutic cloning" research, which many scientists believe has the potential to save millions of lives. Therapeutic cloning does not violate anyone's rights--its only "victims" are 150-cell embryos--but Bush seeks to prohibit it because it violates his Christian beliefs in the moral sanctity of embryos and the moral evil of man "playing God." If Bush succeeds in banning cloning, he will not only have committed a massive violation of the rights of the creators and potential beneficiaries of this technology--he will have established that in the Land of the Free, science may function only by permission of religion.
That our President is mounting an unprecedented attack on secular government--at a time when America is under attack by religious terrorists supported by religious regimes--is morally obscene. Those of us who value liberty must righteously repudiate Bush's faith-based initiative, and rebuild the wall between church and state.
Alex Epstein was a writer and a fellow on staff
at ARI between 2004 and 2011.