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 ...1