Study Points to Big Church-State Shift

A new study reveals that the Bush administration is succeeding beyond the most optimistic projections of supporters — and the most pessimistic fears of critics — in funneling government social service dollars to religious groups, despite the refusal of Congress to pass most of its faith-based initiative.

Last week the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy issued an exhaustive report indicated that religious groups “are now involved in government-encouraged activities ranging from building strip malls for economic improvement to promoting child car seats.”

The White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, according to the report, has set up offices in 10 federal agencies designed to facilitate grants to religious groups.

The report also highlights new policies implemented by executive order that allow “faith-based groups receiving federal funds to consider religion when employing staff, and to build and renovate structures used for both social services and religious worship.”

Jewish groups, divided on the “charitable choice” question, reacted predictably.

Nathan Diament, Washington director for the Orthodox Union, said that “all the administration has done is create an environment in which faith-based groups can be treated as equals in the grant process. So more of these groups are getting funds — and that’s the correct result.”

He pointed to a recent grant from the Compassion Capital Fund to the New York Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty as an example of how the Jewish community could benefit.

But another Orthodox activist said he has been disappointed by the fact that few Jewish groups have gotten any money under the faith-based push.

“They’ve been stringing us along on several programs we’ve very interested in,” this source said. “And there’s no question Christian groups have gotten the vast majority of grants. Maybe there’s resentment in the administration that so many Jewish groups have been opposed.”

The administration’s charitable choice actions may anger liberal Jewish groups, but don’t look for much action on the issue in this year’s presidential campaigns.

Unlike some of his rivals in the Democratic primaries, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the Democratic nominee, has tried to straddle the issue. Kerry has indicated strong support for a faith-based approach to fighting social problems, although he also signaled he opposes giving religious groups that get federal money the right to discriminate in hiring.

He has not revealed what he would do about dozens of Bush executive orders that have resulted in thousands of religious groups getting government grants without the traditional church-state restrictions.

The reasons aren’t hard to fathom.

African American churches — key players in the effort to turn out core Democratic voters — hope to be major beneficiaries of these programs, especially in troubled inner-city neighborhoods.

And Kerry has been trying to close the “God gap” — the perception, actively encouraged by the Republicans, that the Democrats are anti-religion.

Liberal Jewish leaders, wary of putting a candidate they regard as a friend on church-state issues in an awkward political spot, are not pressing Kerry on the faith-based issue.

“We think he’ll be fine, if he’s elected,” said an official with a Jewish group adamantly opposed to government money for sectarian institutions. “But it would be a big mistake for us to push the campaign on this, given today’s political realities. We just have to trust he’ll do the right thing.”

ADL: U.S. Election Spurs Arab

This year’s presidential election is already shaping up as one of the ugliest in recent memory. But that’s nothing compared to the venomous response in other parts of the world.

According to a new study by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), newspapers across the Arab world have combined legitimate coverage of the contest with a “darker underbelly of hatred and anti-Semitism.”

Even mainstream papers in countries supposedly allied with the United States — including Jordan and Saudi Arabia — depict a U.S. government manipulated by sinister Jewish puppet masters.

The ADL has compiled an online gallery of offensive images and articles –including numerous political cartoons depicting President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as pawns of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In one cartoon featured in a Saudi newspaper, black hats and coats –representing Orthodox Jews — are shown hanging from hooks outside a door labeled “Democratic Convention.” In another, from the United Arab Emirates, both presidential candidates are shown stuffing stars of David into ballot boxes.

In an image from a Saudi newspaper, a gross caricature of a Jew is riding Uncle Sam’s shoulders, dangling a ballot box, while a slumping Arab reaches in vain for the dove of peace. In another from the same country, a grossly stereotyped Jew is using a radio control device to make Congress dance to his tune.

Foxman called on Arab leaders to condemn the new wave of anti-Semitism focused on the U.S. election.