GOP looks to charities, religious groups to help cure social ills
TOPEKA, Kansas (CNN) -- The Republican Party laid out its vision Saturday for tackling the old challenges of "how America opens its heart and arms to those less fortunate," but one critic labeled the vision a "misguided disaster."
In the GOP radio address, Gov. Bill Graves of Kansas made it clear that the promise of compassionate conservatism that helped carry George W. Bush to victory will be borne, in large part, by private charities and faith-based organizations.
"Government can't perfect an imperfect society," Graves said in an address taped in Topeka on Friday. "It can't, and shouldn't, be the answer to every problem."
Graves noted that Bush had already begun the effort, meeting Wednesday with 30 ministers and other religious leaders "on expanding the role of charities and churches in federal welfare programs."
Bush has said he plans to create a federal Office of Faith-Based Action, to end regulations that prohibit religious groups from participating in federal programs and to expand tax incentives to increase charitable donations.
Graves predicted such programs will work, noting that similar private efforts in Kansas increased the number of adoptions there by 81 percent. "Families are together today who otherwise would not have been," he said.
Graves also touted a prison program "aimed at helping inmates use the power of religion to transform their lives and encourage change behind prison walls" as another example of community-based efforts to combat society's ills.
But the proposal is a "misguided disaster" which raises a raft of concerns, said Steve Benen, spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
"We keep church and state separate in this country for the benefit of both," he said. "If Governor Graves' proposal is adopted, we'd have taxpayers financing religious ministries nationwide, whether they wanted to or not."
Houses of worship would risk losing their autonomy, he said. "Once they're on the public dole ... regulation is inevitable."
And there is no evidence that turning over the responsibility for handling social services to churches is beneficial, he said. "There's this assumption that churches can do a better job than any other government agency. There's no proof that that's true."
In fact, he said, there is no evidence that such voluntary organizations could even handle the job. "It's just foolish any way you look at it. The idea that you could drop off a bag of money at a church doorstep one day and then drop off the needy the next, and then just hope they could get together is misguided to say the least."
Should the proposals go forward, the group is prepared to take legal action, he said.