Bush Advocates Faith Based Charities

Not that this is terribly surprising, but I do think it’s important to pay attention to what’s going on here. From the Washington Post:

President Bush today urged large American corporations and foundations to step up contributions to religious charities, noting his administration has been doing exactly that.

Federal grants to religious charities totaled $2.1 billion in the budget year that ended Sept. 30, an increase of 7 percent over the previous year, Bush said at the second White House National Conference on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

We all, more or less, knew this was going on. The President frequently advocates faith-based charities. What interests me about this news has to do with Bush’s rationale for his approach:

“Our job in government is to set goals and to focus on results,” Bush told an often-cheering audience of 1,500 at the Washington Hilton Hotel. “If you’re addicted to alcohol, if a faith program is able to get you off alcohol, we ought to say, ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Thanks’ at the federal level.”

. . .

Many charities “were nervous about applying for grants,” Bush said. “I can understand that, you know? They say, ‘Why in the world would I want to interface with the federal government? They may try to run my business.’ “We’ve done a good job, I think, through these different faith-based offices, through-out our government, of [telling] people in the government . . . ‘Look, just don’t tell people how to run their business. Accept the way they are. And focus on results.’ “

A few particularly disingenuous points are worth pointing out.

First, I don’t see any reason why we should accept the implicit contention that faith-based programs get results more successfully than other types of programs. Indeed, the only “evidence” Bush cites in these areas has to do with a hypothetical anecdote about a recovering alcoholic. He does not even attempt to make a coherent case that faith-based charities, by their nature, would get better results, nor does he introduce a framework in which to compare the results obtained by various other charities.

Second, the concept of these charities as businesses is troubling, particularly in the context of Bush’s typical remarks about keeping the federal government out of people’s business management decisions. In a case where the federal government is providing funding, there could be good reasons for the government to question management decisions, or to suggest alternate approaches. Not to mention that these charities are different from for-profit businesses in that they are supposed to serve people who need assistance, not to make a profit.

These minor points indicate a much larger problem. Let me draw your attention to a counterexample that is relevant. Bush’s first act as President was to sign the Global Gag Rule, which forbids any organization that receives funding from the US government from offering or discussing abortions. In that case, rather than looking at the “results,” the President, guided by his religious beliefs, took action that, it has turned out, was harmful to the welfare of many women in the developing world.

Thus we see the truth of the situation. President Bush wishes to promote religion whether or not the results are desirable. Whereas I, and many others, believe that each person has inherent dignity, and that it is society’s obligation to provide for the most basic needs of all whenever possible, no matter their religious beliefs, President Bush apparently places religion above the wellbeing of his people.

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