Thanks to Supreme Court's voucher decision, Wisconsin's faith-based program gets court approval
In January, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that the state of Wisconsin's funding of a religious addiction-recovery program was unconstitutional because it "indoctrinates its participants in religion" (PDF). "Religion is so integral to the Faith Works program that it is not possible to isolate it from the program as a whole." But that part of the case dealt with a state contract with the Department of Workforce Development. A second part focused on a contract with the Department of Corrections, and was decided Friday.
Between the two district court decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision on government-funded vouchers for religious schools—and that apparently made all the difference. In Friday's decision (PDF), Crabb ruled that it doesn't matter how religious Faith Works is, so long as participants have the choice whether to participate in it.
"The problem with plaintiffs' argument is that it overlooks recent establishment clause precedent," Crabb wrote. "Although it is true that an over-arching goal of the establishment clause is to prevent the government from placing its imprimatur on religion, recent cases have held that private individuals can nullify any appearance of government endorsement through true private choice programs under which government aid reaches the religious program "only as a result of the genuine and independent choices of private individuals."
Prisoners who go to the Faith Works prerelease halfway house do so, she said, "as a result of their genuinely independent, private choice. Thus, any appearance that the government is endorsing Faith Works is overcome by the fact that offenders must consent to the program's religious content before participating in it. For these reasons, the Department of Corrections' funding of Faith Works does not violate the establishment clause."
While observers argued whether the January decision was a setback for Bush's efforts to broaden government funding of religious social services, this decision seems to be a major victory. Contrast the Center for Public Justice's statements that the earlier decision " by no means slams the door on the President's faith-based and community initiatives" with those of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which says the new decision will open the door to more funding.
To sum up: The key is not whether faith-based organizations receive federal funds; it's whether there are non-religious alternatives. Recipients of government-funded religious social services must freely choose these services.
You can't win
President Bush is under fire again for not being religiously tolerant enough. "He has mentioned almost all the faiths in his past talks on fighting terrorism and all that, never Hinduism," a reporter complained at a recent press briefing.
"I'd have to check the records," replied spokesman Ari Fleischer. He continued:
But if I recall, in several of the meetings that the President has had here, he has had representatives of the Hindu faith meet with him, along with other members in some of the faith-based meetings that the President has had. And the President, I think owing in great part to his own religious beliefs and to America's tradition of being a welcoming, tolerant nation that brings all into our community of faith, that's a message the President gives. When he talks about any one religion, that applies to all religion.
(One religion is all religion? Uh-oh. Is someone going to complain about syncretism now?) The remarks were carried by several Indian newspapers under headlines like "White House defends Bush's omission of Hinduism." And by the way—Bush has mentioned Hinduism in regards to the war on terrorism. Weblog found this out in about three seconds by searching the White House website.
Sex and marriage:
- Reported number of teen virgins rises | According to new federal data, virginal teens outnumber the sexually active ones. (The Washington Times)
- Syria holds mass wedding | The group wedding, for both Christian and Muslim couples, is part of a government drive to encourage young people to marry despite the high cost of living in the country. (BBC)
Church and state:
- Pledge challenger opens new front | Expunging religious references from Congress' resolutions is his goal. (The Sacramento Bee)
- City can't allow Commandments monument yet bar other religious displays | A federal appeals court has ruled that Ogden, Utah cannot display the Ten Commandments while denying another group the right to display its beliefs. (Associated Press)
- Student accused of practicing witchcraft loses lawsuit | A high school student has lost her lawsuit that claimed she was suspended because of her interest in the Wicca religion. (Associated Press)
- Federal judge throws out challenge to Florida's 'Choose Life' plates | Abortion-rights activists tried to stop the distribution of fees from state license plates bearing the slogan "Choose Life." (Associated Press)
Other stories of interest:
- Cathedral is best sight in land | The "quintessentially English" setting of Britain's tallest cathedral has been decreed the best view in the land. (The Telegraph, London)
- Church image of first Indian saint getting new look | Juan Diego, poised to become the Roman Catholic church's first Indian saint next week, doesn't look much like an Indian these days. (Dallas Morning News)
- Bible camp reports some very old news | Columbia church program reports the good news, of millennia past. (The Baltimore Sun)
- How long will the age of secularization last? | When Pope John Paul II arrived in Toronto Tuesday, he arrived in a continent that is still significantly religious—and left a continent that seems to have abandoned religion for agnosticism and material affluence. (National Post)
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