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B. Berkowitz: Faith, Fabrications, And Fantasy (2)

Faith, Fabrications, And Fantasy (Part 2)

After more than $1 billion in handouts, Bush's results-impaired faith-based initiative is coming to a state near you
By Bill Berkowitz

Continued from Part I. (Here or Here)

After four years and more than one billion dollars given to faith-based organizations, are they serving the needs of the poor as well as secular organizations or government-run agencies? Certainly, with an administration obsessed with "results," there must be studies proving the efficacy of its faith-based theories. But there aren't; few if any such studies exist, writes Amy Sullivan in the October 2004 issue of the Washington Monthly. In a story entitled The policy of funding the work of faith-based organizations has, in the face of slashed social service budgets, devolved into a small pork-barrel program that offers token grants to... religious constituencies... while making almost no effort to monitor their effectiveness...

"Results, results, results," was Bush's oft-repeated mantra going as far back as the 2000 campaign. Sullivan cites an interview, from that campaign, with the religious Web site Beliefnet, where Bush was asked whether he would support government money going to a Muslim group that taught prisoners the Koran. "The question I'd be asking," Bush replied, "is what are the recidivism rates? Is it working? I wouldn't object at all if the program worked." According to Sullivan, "four more times in the interview, Bush mentioned 'results,' noting that instead of promoting religion, 'I'm promoting lower recidivism rates, and we will measure to make sure that's the case.'"

Where do we stand in terms of measuring "results?" According to Sullivan, "it turns out that the Bush administration forgot to require evaluation of organizations that receive government grants." An August 2004 study released by the Pew-funded Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy found that "while more elaborate scientific studies are underway, the White House has relied on largely anecdotal evidence to support the view that faith-based approaches produce better long-term results."

Sullivan concludes that "there is no evidence that faith-based organizations work better than their secular counterparts; and, in some cases, they are actually less effective":

In one study funded by the Ford Foundation, investigators found that faith-based job training programs placed only 31 percent of their clients in full-time employment while the number for secular organizations was 53 percent. And Teen Challenge's [a Texas-based drug program often spoken highly of by Bush] much ballyhooed 86 percent rehabilitation rate falls apart under examination -- the number doesn't include those who dropped out of Teen Challenge and relies on a disturbingly small sample of those graduates who self-reported whether they had remained sober, significantly tilting the results.

In August 2003, Mark Kleinman of Slate, the online magazine, took a close look at Charles Colson's Prison Fellowship program called the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a Bible-centered prison program. Examining a University of Pennsylvania study that claimed high success rates for the InnerChange program, Kleinman found that the InnerChange participants actually did somewhat worse than the control group and were slightly more apt to be re-arrested and re-imprisoned.

In order to reach its preordained conclusion, the Penn study employed "selection bias" or "creaming," Kleinman pointed out, allowing InnerChange to ignore participants that dropped out or were kicked out of the program, or who, for some other reasons, never finished the program.

Bush's faith-based initiative finds a home in the states

In Bush's second term, he is "setting [his] sights on money doled out by the states," for social services, the Associated Press recently reported. "The goal is to persuade states to funnel more of the federal money for social service programs that they administer to 'faith-based organizations.'"

To encourage states to participate, the White House has hosted a series of conferences. Jim Towey, the director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives who was also recently appointed Assistant to the President, has met with state leaders and the president "has personally lobbied governors," AP reported. "The White House office also is providing states with technical assistance in setting up their own faith-based offices." Thus far some 21 governors -- both Democrat and Republican -- have set up their own faith-based offices.

The White House isn't alone in tutoring faith-based groups about how to apply for government grants. The Community & Faith-Based Grants Institute, an organization run by the Tucson, Arizona-based Faith-Based Institute is offering a "video seminar on Faith Based Initiative grant writing [which] picks up where the free grant writing seminars by the government leave off."

The Institute has lined up an impressive array of former administration insiders and veterans of various U.S. charities as seminar instructors, including Dave Donaldson, the founder and CEO of We Care America, "an organization that identifies faith-based models and works to strengthen and multiply them to help those in need"; Michael McCarthy, manager of The Center for Capacity Development, "a fee-for-service division of The WorkPlace, Inc., Southwestern Connecticut's Regional Workforce Development Board"; Amy Sherman, a Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute's Welfare Policy Center and the founder and former executive director of Charlottesville Abundant Life Ministries, "a holistic, cross-cultural, whole-family, church-based outreach in an urban neighborhood of approximately 380 lower-income, single-parent families"; and Dr. Stanley Carlson-Thies, the Director of the Civitas Program in Faith in Public Affairs, The Center for Public Justice and former OFBCI staff member.

Jim Towey sees a bright future for faith-based organizations to shoulder a larger part of the load in providing for people in need.

"We're on the sunrise side of the mountain," he proclaimed.

While it's a long way from the cushy air-conditioned offices of Jim Towey's White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to the dusty devastated streets of Fallujah, the president's War in Iraq and his faith-based crusade may have a lot more in common than at first meets the eye.

Bush's war in Iraq was built on fabrications, faith and fantasy: The administration fabricated claims about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein's relationship with al Qaeda's Osama bin Laden, and the Iraqi dictator's connection to 9/11. Bush faithfully believed it when his wild-eyed neoconservative advisors fantasized that U.S. troops would be welcomed with open arms by the people of Iraq, and that reconstruction would be a "slam dunk," to borrow a phrase from former CIA director George Tenet. The neocons were wrong and reconstruction has been a non-starter.

The president's faith-based initiative -- the centerpiece of his domestic policy agenda -- is also a combination of fabrications, faith, and fantasy. Despite concrete data, the Bush administration insisted that faith-based organizations would provide social services to the poor and addicted more effectively than secular programs. No data existed four years ago, and little more than anecdotal evidence exists today.

President Bush's long hard slog in Iraq has produced death, destruction and a powerful insurgency. As poverty deepens at home, the president's faith-, fabrication-, and fantasy-based initiative is heading toward a state near you.


For more please see the Bill Berkowitz archive.

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.

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