Monday, August 07, 2006

Hoosiers Big On Bush's Faith-Based Initiatives

President Bush has chosen a Hoosier, Jay Hein, to run his Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Hein is currently working as the president of the Indianapolis-based Sagamore Institute for Policy Research, a national think tank that specializes in community-based reforms. Before that he worked for the Hudson Institute. The AP notes that the President's faith-based initiatives have their roots in Indiana:

President Bush has again turned to someone in Indiana for help in implementing his vision of government support of faith-based initiatives.

Jay Hein, the new director of the Office of the Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, is president of the Indianapolis-based Sagamore Institute for Policy Research, a national think tank that specializes in community-based reforms.

And when his work in Washington is done, Hein said he intends to return to his job in Indianapolis.

"The (faith-based) initiative is unfinished work," Hein told The Indianapolis Star in an interview for a Sunday story. "There are some things that need to be strengthened."

He is the second person from Indianapolis to play a role in the president's faith-based programs. Former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith previously served as an advisor to Bush on such issues.

"Indianapolis is clearly the epicenter of this, and we want ripples to go out across the country," said former U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, who co-chairs Sagamore's board and helped connect the White House with Hein.

The AP notes that the 41-year old Hein has two school-age sons, is an elder at Grace Community Church in Noblesville and hosts weekly Bible study groups at his home. I met Hein about 20 years ago when he was interning with then-Illinois Gov. James Thompson in Springfield. I played golf with him and a couple of other State House employees two or three times and drank with him on a few occasions. He was a very nice guy, but I never imagined him becoming the Bible thumper type.

The term "faith-based initiative" has become a popular catch-phrase for conservatives these days, but when we start talking about using taxpayer dollars to finance these programs, I have a problem. Various religious groups want the government to fund these "well-meaning" programs as long as the government doesn't interfere with them imposing their religious beliefs on those who they seek to benefit, even if that means discriminating against the civil rights of other people. As Pat Robertson once described the potential problems with government-funded faith-based initiatives:

If government provides funding to the thousands of faith-based institutions but, under a tortured definition of separation of church and state, demands in return that those institutions give up their unique religious activities, then not only the effectiveness of these institutions but possibly their very raison d'ĂȘtre may be lost.

There is a second disturbing problem. Under our settled Constitutional law, government may not engage in content discrimination of speech. The same government grants given to Catholics, Protestants, and Jews must also be given to the Hare Krishnas, the Church of Scientology, or Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church—no matter that some may use brainwashing techniques, or that the founder
of one claims to be the messiah and another that he was Buddha reincarnated.

Robertson proposed avoiding these problems by replacing a direct grant program with a dollar-for-dollar tax credit to corporations and individuals who contributed to faith-based organizations; however, any way you look at it, it amounts to government funding of religion. I think many of these faith-based programs can be beneficial, but I think the religious groups who run them should rely on private donations, not the government, to finance them.

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