Is Milwaukee court decision a setback to faith-based initiatives?
A federal district court in Wisconsin last week ruled that state funding of a religious addiction-recovery program is unconstitutional. "I conclude that the Faith Works program indoctrinates its participants in religion, primarily through its counselors," wrote Judge Barbara B. Crabb (PDF). "Religion is so integral to the Faith Works program that it is not possible to isolate it from the program as a whole." On the surface, it seems like a major blow to President Bush's faith-based initiative. In fact, during his 2000 campaign Bush even promoted Faith Works (which offers job placement, training, and other services in addition to its counseling) as an example of the kind of group he'd like the faith-based initiative to help. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State is calling the decision "a huge defeat for the Bush administration."
But not so fast. The decision "by no means slams the door on the president's faith-based and community initiatives," says Stephen Lazarus of the Center for Public Justice. Instead, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel paraphrases Lazarus, "Crabb's decision merely means that states will have to be more careful in how they channel money to faith-based agencies and in how those agencies are run." The Bush administration apparently agrees. A Justice Department spokeswoman tells The New York Times, the decision "reaffirms the importance of providing protections to make sure that federal funds aren't used for religious or proselytizing purposes." In the decision itself, Crabb specifically states that "this case does not involve a challenge to the constitutionality of charitable choice. Simply because a state-funded program engages in indoctrination does not mean that the program's funding is unconstitutional."
Crabb's ruling actually came before trial, since the state and the plaintiff (the Freedom from Religion Foundation) agreed on the facts of Wisconsin's grants to the program. Another part of the case, over "whether offenders under the supervision of the Department of Corrections who participate in the Faith Works program do so of their own independent, private choice," wasn't so easy and will go to trial later this month.
Wisconsin Supreme Court justice attacked over voucher decision
Speaking of Wisconsin court cases on state funding of religious institutions, the state's Supreme Court is being asked to overturn its 1998 decision allowing school vouchers. Justice Jon Wilcox should have removed himself from the case, say voucher opponents, because his re-election campaign received contributions from voucher supporters. Gov. Scott McCallum says the request is just one more ploy. "School choice in Milwaukee is working," he said. "It is successful. It has helped so many children and their families. Why these people want to hurt economic-disadvantaged children is beyond me."
China busts up yet another church, sentences leaders without trial
After arresting a Hong Kong businessman for smuggling Bibles and ordering the execution of church leaders, China is continuing its crackdown on Christianity. This time, the official China News Service is reporting that leaders of the evangelical Association of Disciples church have been sentenced to hard labor without a trial. "A large rally was held to announce the sentences and 'educate' the local population of the dangers of the group," Agence France-Presse says, summarizing the official Chinese report. President George Bush, who is "deeply concerned about these reports" of persecution, will visit China next month.
Former Virginia attorney general named Colson successor
Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson says former Virginia attorney general (and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate) Mark Earley "in due course will assume the responsibility I now have as principal spokesperson and leader of this ministry." Will Earley's old job be a problem in ministering to convicts? Colson doesn't think so. "I don't think it matters that you were a law-and-order attorney general," he tells The Washington Post. "I think it matters that you're a Christian." Still, Post writer Fredrick Kunkle notes, "As attorney general, Earley often supported policies that put him in a position squarely opposed to the interests of the people to whom he will minister. He was an unwavering supporter of the death penalty. His office fought against granting new DNA tests in some high-profile capital cases, although he ultimately endorsed legislation allowing prisoners to go to court seeking new DNA tests. As a state senator, Earley led the fight to abolish parole " Before he succeeds Colson, however, Earley succeeds Thomas Pratt, who has served as president and CEO since 1989.
Charles Colson is also attacking both liberals who see prison as rehabilitating and conservatives who see prison as a crime deterrent. Both, he says, are wrong. "If we understand that prisons are not therapeutic and that they don't deter, then we understand that their only purpose is to remove those who are dangerous from the rest of society," Colson said at a recent Calvin College lecture. "If you have the wrong view of human nature and try to cure people, they are going to turn around and kill you."
In related news, yesterday was "Re-Entry Sunday" for 39 D.C.-area churches, reports The Washington Times. The congregations will be working to help parolees and ex-convicts find housing, education, and employment. "Churches, mosques and temples are the cornerstones of community," the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency director says. "If the returning offender can find a welcome there, then he is not alone. He can tap into the strength of the community and use it to reinforce his resolve to establish a life that is free from drugs and crime."
Because there's just not enough pro-gay programming on TV now
TV Guide reports that MTV and Showtime are planning to launch a gay TV channel by the end of the year. Viewers would have to pay extra for it, like Showtime or HBO, The New York Times says, to "eliminate any potential protest from those who might oppose the content." "No one who doesn't want this will ever see this channel," says Gene Falk, the senior vice president for the MTV digital media group. But will homosexuals watch it? There are already myriad Christian television stations and networks out there, but they don't necessarily pull in viewership. (Plus, there's already tons of gay programming on other channelscheck out Gay.com's Gaywatch for examples. Or don't, if the racy gay ads will bother you.) Do you watch Christian television? Vote in our poll.
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