Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Nice of you to come--now sign this!

Religious News Service:
Washington, June 1 - As Congress gears up for another go at expanding the Bush administration's faith-based initiative, dozens of mostly conservative black ministers have signed on to a statement endorsing the bill's controversial "charitable choice" provision, long a point of contention for Democrats.

Staffers from the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives circulated the letter for signatures in advance of and during a private May 23 meeting between the black ministers and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The meeting's topic was ways the faith-based initiative could be expanded to aid Africans victimized by the spread of HIV.

But some critics say the letter, which endorses a domestic provision allowing American charities to discriminate based on a job applicant's religious beliefs, was the real point of the meeting.


Circulation of the letter at the Rice meeting helped the administration gather more signatures and drum up more support among black pastors.

But the Rev. Timothy McDonald, chair of the Washington-based African American Ministers in Action and minister at First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, said the administration had been dishonest about the real reason for the meeting with Rice, and the fine print of the letter.

"What angers me is the whole way they called the meeting talking about Africa and HIV and then they just sprung the letter on them," McDonald said. "The way it's being promoted is that you'll be able to get more money for your church to help with their programs, but they're not being told that they're signing something that condones discrimination."

McDonald said the letter had not been released to the public because many of the ministers had not known what they had signed.

"That's why they're keeping it so private, because they know once it goes public they won't be able to use them," he asserted. A similar thing happened, he said, when the Bush administration sought black support for government vouchers that could pay for religious education.

Towey said the letter had been circulating for about six weeks and had collected signatures from more than 30 prominent African-American pastors. He said his office would probably release the statement later this month because staff members were still trying to get more signatures.

I think I'll be very interested to see what that letter has to say.

Ve-e-e-ry interested.

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