Tuesday, January 30, 2001
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Posted on: Tuesday, January 30, 2001

Mixed reviews for Bush grants to church groups

Join our online discussion on President Bush's proposed federal grants to religious groups.

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii’s church-related social service programs yesterday gave President Bush’s offer of federal support to "faith-based" organizations varying responses, while it raised eyebrows among civil liberties advocates.

While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has never accepted federal money, LDS Family Services Agency Director Sally Okura Lee said yesterday, "we are thrilled with our new president’s ideas for social reform.

"It is vital that moral, upright selfless people lead programs to help others and lift up lives," Lee said.

Catholic Charities director Jerry Rauckhorst said more federal money is always welcome, but if money is shifted from existing government programs such as Food Stamps "that would really erode the safety net."

And he said many faith-based organizations are "more like an extension of church." "We are related to the Catholic Church, no question about that, but we are organized as a nonprofit organization, with all of the accountabilities that come with that."

George Harris, "city missionary" for Central Union Church, warned that "one problem that Bush is going to get into is that although the religious right may be behind this, once you open the door all sorts of people are going to apply for the money, everybody that comes forward and says, I am a church.’ "

And, Harris said, "if I had any alternative than to go for federal money, I would do it, because it (federal money) is just a mess to deal with" in terms of paperwork, and may get a lot messier if the church-state debate begins to rage.

Brent White, ACLU of Hawaii’s legal director, condemned Bush’s move.

"I think it’s a very dangerous idea," he said. "On its face, it violates the principle of separation of church and state.

"Giving money to a religious organization, is in effect subsidizing the proselytizing function that most religious organizations have."

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