Faith No More

Texas’ record shows dangers of faith-based policy

Don Monkerud

The list of faith-based” ini­tia­tives spon­sored by the Bush admin­is­tra­tion con­tin­ues to grow. In Jan­u­ary, the Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices released fed­er­al funds to reli­gious groups in Ohio and Penn­syl­va­nia to pro­mote mar­riage. Days after­ward, the Bush admin­is­tra­tion pro­posed releas­ing fed­er­al hous­ing mon­ey to reli­gious groups to erect or refur­bish build­ings where reli­gious ser­vices are held.

Texas' faith-based program created so many problems that, in 2001, the Texas legislature chose not to renew the state's accreditation program for church-run childcare providers.

That adds to the $30 mil­lion HHS doled out to numer­ous groups back in Octo­ber from the Com­pas­sion Cap­i­tal Fund” (see Bless­ing for Whom?” Novem­ber 25). Reli­gious groups receiv­ing fund­ing includ­ed Pat Robertson’s Oper­a­tion Bless­ing Inter­na­tion­al and the Nation­al Cen­ter for Faith Based Ini­tia­tive [sic], a local min­istry in West Palm Beach, Flori­da. The lat­ter describes itself as work­ing to cre­ate wealth and empow­er our peo­ple to stew­ard that wealth for the pur­pos­es of the king­dom.” Last July, more than $1 bil­lion in fed­er­al grants was made avail­able to reli­gious groups that spon­sor after-school pro­grams, despite charges that these groups dis­crim­i­nate in hir­ing based on religion. 

All this may not bode well for the recip­i­ents of such reli­gious ser­vices, accord­ing to a recent report from Bush’s home state. The report, The Texas Faith-Based Ini­tia­tive at Five Years,” exam­ines the pro­grams begun by Bush when he was gov­er­nor. The report is spon­sored by the Texas Free­dom Net­work (TFN), an alliance of 7,500 reli­gious and com­mu­ni­ty leaders.

In 1996, Texas appoint­ed an almost entire­ly Chris­t­ian com­mis­sion to elim­i­nate reg­u­la­tions that pre­vent­ed faith-based providers from receiv­ing gov­ern­ment funds. Then Gov­er­nor Bush pushed agen­cies to change poli­cies and elim­i­nate licens­ing and inspec­tion require­ments for reli­gious char­i­ties, and Texas became the first state to imple­ment tax­pay­er-fund­ed reli­gious services.

After five years of such exper­i­men­ta­tion, Texas dis­cov­ered many seri­ous flaws:

After Texas’ Depart­ment of Pro­tec­tive and Reg­u­la­to­ry Ser­vices stopped reg­u­lat­ing child­care providers, rates of con­firmed abuse and neglect at the reli­gious facil­i­ties rose quick­ly and are now 25 times high­er than at state-licensed facil­i­ties. Reli­gious facil­i­ties had a 75 per­cent com­plaint rate, com­pared to 5.4 per­cent at state-licensed facil­i­ties.Texas Com­mis­sion on Alco­hol and Drug Abuse inspec­tors pre­sent­ed Teen Chal­lenge, a Chris­t­ian res­i­den­tial drug treat­ment pro­gram and one of Bush’s high­ly-tout­ed mod­els, with a 49-page list of vio­la­tions of state reg­u­la­tions. Teen Chal­lenge said its mis­sion was to evan­ge­lize peo­ple” and ini­ti­ate the dis­ci­ple­ship process to the point where stu­dents can func­tion as Chris­tians … apply­ing spir­i­tu­al­ly moti­vat­ed Bible prin­ci­ples.” The pro­gram had no cre­den­tialed coun­selors, no chem­i­cal depen­den­cy ser­vices, failed to inform clients of their rights, and was found to be ille­gal­ly han­dling med­ica­tions.Jobs Partnership’s stat­ed mis­sion was to help clients find employ­ment through a rela­tion­ship with Jesus Christ.” The group’s bud­get and cur­ricu­lum show that $8,000 of state mon­ey was used to buy Bibles and that the pro­gram focused pri­mar­i­ly on Bible study.A dis­trict court found use of the state funds uncon­sti­tu­tion­al because they were used for reli­gious pur­pos­es, and also said the state had vio­lat­ed clients’ reli­gious free­dom by not pro­vid­ing a sec­u­lar alter­na­tive. The only oth­er job train­ing pro­gram in the area was locat­ed in the next coun­ty.The Insti­tute for Respon­si­ble Father­hood and Fam­i­ly Revi­tal­iza­tion, run by reli­gious and crime-fight­ing Texas con­ser­v­a­tives, was giv­en $1.5 mil­lion in state funds for a reli­gious-spon­sored job train­ing pro­gram that required total sur­ren­der to Christ.” IRF­FR beat out a Lock­heed Mar­tin and Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas-spon­sored pro­gram in com­pe­ti­tion for the fund­ing, despite the fact that the uni­ver­si­ty pro­gram had a job place­ment rate almost 300 times greater than IRFFR’s.Bypass­ing pub­lic debate, the Depart­ment of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice used $1.5 mil­lion to fund the Inner Change prison pre-release pro­gram, a Christ-cen­tered, bible-based” pro­gram spon­sored by Prison Fel­low­ship Min­istries, found­ed by Water­gate con­spir­a­tor Chuck Col­son. The pro­gram, which pro­pos­es to encour­age the spir­i­tu­al and moral regen­er­a­tion” of offend­ers and cre­ate respect for God’s law,” received fund­ing despite a lack of evi­dence that the pro­gram reduces recidi­vism.

Texas’ faith-based pro­gram cre­at­ed so many prob­lems that, in 2001, the Texas leg­is­la­ture chose not to renew the state’s accred­i­ta­tion pro­gram for church-run child­care providers.

Now, the reli­gious-spon­sored roll­back of state licens­ing and over­sight appears to be less­en­ing. Through Octo­ber, only eight reli­gious-sup­port­ed child­care pro­grams and 129 Chris­t­ian chem­i­cal-depen­den­cy recov­ery pro­grams had request­ed exemp­tion from state licens­ing. More than 2,000 child­care cen­ters and 900 chem­i­cal depen­den­cy pro­grams main­tain state licensing.

Despite fail­ures in Texas, Bush con­tin­ues to push his fed­er­al faith-based ini­tia­tive, large­ly through the use of pres­i­den­tial orders that cir­cum­vent con­gres­sion­al debate. As the nation con­sid­ers this pub­lic pol­i­cy pos­si­bil­i­ty,” says Ash­ley McIl­vain, polit­i­cal direc­tor for TFN, Texas already has a record with these poli­cies. We know that faith-based ini­tia­tives vio­late the reli­gious free­dom of peo­ple in need. In Texas, our record shows that the faith-based ini­tia­tive also puts peo­ple in danger.”

Don Monkerud is a Cal­i­for­nia-based writer who fol­lows cul­tur­al, social and polit­i­cal issues. His arti­cles have been pub­lished in a vari­ety of mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers, includ­ing Omni, San Fran­cis­co Chron­i­cle, Mac Week, New York Times, San Jose Mer­cury News, Human­i­ties and Z Mag­a­zine.
Limited Time:

SUBSCRIBE TO IN THESE TIMES MAGAZINE FOR JUST $1 A MONTH