Taxes for Terrorists?
The promoters of Faith-based action appear to be divided: Don Eberly, deputy director of the of White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives told the Washington Post March 11 that the Administration is delaying its plan to funnel taxpayer dollars to religious charities. The White House, however, and Eberly's boss, Don DiIulio say that the plan is steaming ahead.
Clearly, the plan has been running into problems, and not just with constitutionalists concerned about the shrinking gap between church and state. Eberly's comments came after religious conservatives including evangelicals Pat Roberston and Jerry Falwell expressed alarm about just who might get funding (The Nation of Islam? The Church of Scientology? The Hare Krishnas? Heaven forbid.) Other church groups are dubious about the possible strings attached to government cash.
But while the Bush team engages in in-house quibbles, the other side has been quiet, or worse. Liberals like Ellen Goodman and even civil liberties lawyer David Cole (writing in the New York Times) have argued that the needs are so great that religious outfits should be "given a chance." Two days after the news of a possible delay in implementing the White House initiative, Connecticut Senator and religious Jew, Joseph Lieberman declared his support for the plan, and it's director. "I love John DiIulio" he told the press.
Now is no time to quibble or stay quiet - progressives should unite to kill the Bush plan stone dead. Looking for a reason? The program is not only a gift to those keen on privatizing public jobs and a strike against the secular state, it could also end up subsidizing the violent fringe of the religious Right. There's certainly no way to ensure that it won't.
Jerry Reiter is a former TV reporter turned Christian Coalition activist and Operation Rescue insider, who now works for the Council for Secular Inquiry. Asked about the faith based initiative, Reiter, who wrote a book on his experiences in the violent fringe of the anti-abortion movement ("Live from the Gates of Hell") says that from his experience, it's as easy as pie for religious extremists to set up front groups that look like charities. In fact, they do it all the time. Could contributions for charitable work end up in the hands of terrorists? "Sure," says Reiter. In fact, he watched it happen.
Legitimate-looking social service front groups are a good way to raise unregulated cash says Reiter. They're called "para-church ministries" and they've been a staple of the religious scene for years. Reiter says he collected thousands of dollars at weekly Christian Coalition rallies for local causes, dollars which "could have gone anywhere, there were no records being kept." Meanwhile, Operation Rescue (the militant antiabortion group that pioneered blocking access to abortion clinic doors) ran its campaign from the Buffalo Christian Coalition's basement where he worked, and he believes, OR ran on the Christian Coalition's collection-cash. At the national level, Operation Rescue also ran an adoption service, which they supported from charitable donations. Did OR raise money for its adoption service that actually went to the blockade movement. There's no way of knowing Reiter says, but he believes it's likely. Flip Benham, director of OR's latest incarnation, Save America, said this January that the group "had to get out of all that" and no longer runs any adoption-related service. OR was successfully sued for conspiracy to commit domestic terrorism in 1998.
John Burt, a former Ku Klux Klansman turned anti-abortion radical ran "Our Father's House," a home for unwed mothers which Reiter visited in Pensacola, Florida. Burt, who led the blockade movement in Pensacola, would get his clients onto welfare, "then he'd send out solicitations" for money to care for the unwed mothers and their "rescued" kids, says Reiter. IN a bucket in the pantry, Burt at one point kept a 20-week old aborted fetus, in formaldehyde (for use as a "counseling tool" he once told a journalist.) It was at Our Father's House that Michael Griffin, a volunteer, was shown his first video of aborted babies. After he was convicted in 1993 of murdering Dr. David Gunn outside a nearby Pensacola women's clinic, Griffin claimed he'd been brainwashed there at the home by Burt.
Tracking government work that's sub-contracted out is infamously tough. Remember the Pentagon spending scandals? Given George W's fondness for, and the favors he owes the Religious Right, if they end up going for the White House Initiative, there's little reason to believe the Bush administration would be likely to scrutinize them very closely. Even if some enterprising accountant tried to stop taxes from going where they shouldn't, could he or she do it? It's unlikely, says Reiter, given the way groups are set up. With separate boards and budgets, "there's really no way to keep track unless you know the people and know that they're part of a collaborative network."
Indeed, among those who praised GW's Faith-based initiative this January, was Reiter's former pastor, the man who first introduced him to the Christian Coalition, Operation Rescue and the anti-abortion underground: Rob Schenck. "President Bush is to be commended in the highest possible way for [the White House] effort," Schenck told CBS "Good Morning" January 25. "Religiously based social programs typically have the highest success rates, lowest costs and most personally interested staff."
In a press release, Schenck, who attended the National Prayer Breakfast to commend the Bush plan (along with among others, Katherine Harris, the Florida Secretary of State,) described himself as an evangelical minister, and former Executive Director of Teen Challenge, a church-sponsored rehabilitation program for troubled youth and a favorite charity of George W. Bush. With his twin brother, Paul, Rob Schenck founded Operation Serve, something he calls "a humanitarian relief agency that deploys medical and dental volunteers to serve the poor, and Hearts for the Homeless, a mobile advocacy program for indigent women, children and men."
What Schenck left out of his resume was the fact that it was he and Paul who first invited Operation Rescue to Buffalo to picket Dr. Barnett Slepian a doctor who performed abortions. For years, they marched outside his home and his office with threatening picket signs, calling the doctor, who was Jewish "Pig." There, six years later, Slepian was killed. His murderer is still on the loose. At the '92 Democratic Convention, Rob was detained by the Secret Service and arrested for rushing President Clinton with a dead fetus in his hands, screaming about abortion.
Today, the brothers say that killing is a sin. They left Operation Rescue after serving a prison sentence for lying in federal court and Rob went on to work for Teen Challenge, New York. Teen Challenge chair, John Castellani, was there at Shrub's side as he signed the White House Office on Faith Based Action and Community Initiatives into effect.
The Faith-Based Initiative should raise hackles, says Reiter, and not just among secular constitutionalists, or the those concerned about government interference with the Church. Anyone who pays taxes should worry. Not least because cash for counselling by the likes of the Schenks may not suit any social agenda except the advance of supremacist views, he says, but also, he says, because "Even if in the main, the money goes to good causes, there is a clear and present danger that some of it will go to groups closely affiliated with, if not controlled by terrorists."