US religious charities win $2.15bn in state grants

 White House increases awards to faith groups 
 Concern that public funds used to gain converts 

Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
Saturday March 11, 2006
The Guardian,,1728616,00.html

The Bush administration channelled $2.15bn (1.25bn)
to faith-based charities last year, advancing its
mission to increase the share of government aid money
given to religious organisations.

The figure, contained in a White House report unveiled
on Thursday, does not account for all of the grants
awarded by an administration determined to increase
the involvement of churches and religious
organisations in social services provision.

The revelation deepened concerns among aid
professionals and civil liberty groups about the
quality of services offered by some of the religious
groups - especially at a time when funds for social
programmes are being cut. There are also charges that
the Bush administration is underwriting proselytising
campaigns by the Christian right.

About 10.9% of competitive federal grants for
programmes for the needy went to religious charities
last year, up from 10.3% in 2004. Religious groups
played an especially large role in public housing,
receiving 24% of grant money . They also received
14.2% of funding from the international development
In the five years that George Bush has been in the
White House, 11 government agencies have set up
religious offices, ostensibly to help coordinate the
provision of social services by faith-based
organisations. This week, the president established
one in the department of homeland security.

"It used to be that groups were prohibited from
receiving any federal funding whatsoever because they
had a cross or a star or a crescent on the wall," Mr
Bush told religious leaders at the annual White House
conference on faith-based initiatives on Thursday,
adding: "and that's changed for the better."

Mr Bush's belief in faith-based charities has long
provoked controversy overseas, where pressure from the
US Christian right has diverted a quarter of the 15bn
the White House pledged to fight Aids to abstinence

At home, civil liberty groups accuse the Bush
administration of using the faith-based charities to
cover up for spending cuts. They also say there is not
enough monitoring to ensure that funds are not used to
spread religion. "Some of these organisations do good
work, but for some of them their first goal is winning
a new soul to convert, and that type of activity
should always be funded with private dollars," said
Rob Boston of the group Americans United for
Separation of Church and State. "There is virtually no
attempt to monitor these religious institutions unless
someone forces the issue."

Last month, the Bush administration cut off funds to
the Silver Ring Thing, an organisation preaching
teenage abstinence that has a branch in Britain. The
decision followed a law suit by the American Civil
Liberties Union, which found the group had been urging
young people to embrace Christianity.


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