Bush's "faith-based" initiative has been running into problems.
Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell expressed alarm about just who might
get funding: The Nation of Islam? The Church of Scientology? The
Hare Krishnas? Heaven forbid. Other church groups are dubious about
the possible strings attached to government cash.
But liberals have been quiet, or worse. Columnist Ellen Goodman
and law professor David Cole (writing in the New York Times)
have argued that the needs are so great that religious outfits should
be "given a chance." Don't listen to them. Progressives should unite
to kill the Bush plan dead. The program is not only a gift to those
keen on privatizing public jobs and a strike against the secular
state, but it could also end up subsidizing the violent fringe of
the religious right.
Jerry Reiter is a former Christian Coalition activist and insider
at Operation Rescue, the militant anti-abortion group that pioneered
blocking access to abortion clinic doors. Reiter, who wrote of his
experiences on the fringes of the anti-abortion movement in Live
from the Gates of Hell and now works for the American Humanist,
says that it's easy for religious extremists to set up front groups
that look like charities. They do it all the time.
Legitimate-looking social service front groups are a good way to
raise cash, Reiter says. They're called "para-church ministries,"
and they've been a staple of the religious scene for years. Reiter
says he collected thousands of dollars at weekly Christian Coalition
rallies for local causes. But he believes Operation Rescue (which
ran its campaign from the Buffalo Christian Coalition's basement)
was at least partially funded by the Christian Coalition's collection
At the national level, Operation Rescue ran an adoption service
supported by charitable donations. Did Operation Rescue raise money
for its adoption service that actually went to fund the blockade
movement? It's likely, Reiter says, but there's no way to know for
Then there is John Burt, a former Ku Klux Klansman turned anti-abortion
radical, who ran Our Father's House, a home for unwed mothers that
Reiter visited in Pensacola, Florida. Burt, who led the blockade
movement in Pensacola, would get his clients onto welfare, "then
he'd send out solicitations" for money to care for the unwed mothers
and their "rescued" kids, Reiter says. In a bucket in the pantry,
Burt kept a 20-week-old aborted fetus in formaldehyde (for use as
a "counseling tool," he told a journalist). It was at Our Father's
House that Michael Griffin, a volunteer, was shown his first video
of aborted fetuses. After he was convicted in 1993 of murdering
Dr. David Gunn outside a nearby Pensacola women's clinic, Griffin
claimed he'd been brainwashed by Burt.
Among those who praised Bush's faith-based initiative this January
was Reiter's former pastor, Rob Schenck, the man who first introduced
him to the Christian Coalition, Operation Rescue and the anti-abortion
underground. "President Bush is to be commended in the highest possible
way," Schenck told CBS This Morning on January 25. "Religiously
based social programs typically have the highest success rates,
lowest costs and most personally interested staff."
In a press release, Schenck, who attended the National Prayer Breakfast
to commend the Bush plan, described himself as an evangelical minister
and former executive director of Teen Challenge, a church-sponsored
rehabilitation program for troubled youth and a favorite Bush charity.
With his twin brother Paul, Schenck founded Operation Serve, something
he calls "a humanitarian relief agency that deploys medical and
dental volunteers to serve the poor" and Hearts for the Homeless,
"a mobile advocacy program for indigent women, children and men."
Schenck left some things off his resumé. At the 1992 Democratic
Convention, Schenck was arrested and detained by the Secret Service
for rushing Bill Clinton with a dead fetus in his hands, screaming
about abortion. He and his brother were the people who first invited
Operation Rescue to Buffalo to picket Dr. Barnett Slepian, a local
abortion provider. For years, they marched outside Slepian's home
and office with threatening signs, some of which called the doctor
"pig." In 1998, Slepian was shot dead at his home. His alleged murderer,
James Kopp, was arrested in France in late March.
Now the brothers say that killing is a sin. They both left Operation
Rescue after serving short prison sentences for lying in federal
court, and Schenck went on to work for Teen Challenge in New York.
Bush's initiative should raise hackles, Reiter says, and not just
among secular constitutionalists or those concerned about government
interference with the church. Anyone who pays taxes should worry
because cash for social services provided by the likes of the Schencks
may not suit any social agenda except the advancement of extreme,
supremacist views. "Even if in the main, the money goes to good
causes," he says. "there is a clear and present danger that some
of it will go to groups closely affiliated with, if not controlled