How many religions may a US president prescribe?

Washington, USA
January 31, 2001
Frankfurter Neue Presse

by Carsten Wieland

Washington. The model prison near Houston resembles an Islamic Koran school. Singing, praying, reciting the Holy Scriptures. 16 hours of religious instruction, hardly any television or recreational time, seven days a week. But instead of suras the inmates read Christian Bible verses. The "Inner Change" program goes back to the time when US President George W. Bush was still governor of Texas. It was supposed to make good Christians out of criminals. Liberal American are concerned that the pilot program will be taken up all over the USA and that the separation of church and state, and thereby the Constitution, are at risk.

In his plans the President is going far beyond the prisons. Establishments for the poor and drug-dependent or high schools are also supposed to be directed by religious groups. Just like in Texas. State agencies would then have to compete nationwide for subsidies. A new "Office for Actions in the Name of Faith" is supposed to distribute billions of US dollars over the next ten years

Bush's plans have put the secularists in the USA into a rage. "He thinks he was elected to national pastor at the same time he was elected president," complained Barry Lynn of the interest group for separation of church and state. "A church which performs a service for the community absolutely has religious goals, and that gives us a huge problem with the Constitution."

The secularists' fear also has another name: John Ashcroft. The attorney, gospel singer and declared opponent of abortion is supposed to be the new secretary of justice. He is Bush's most controversial cabinet candidate. Ashcroft's opponents see him as the incarnation of a religious fanatic who will be taking the stage for his own convictions rather than for the law. They accuse him of racism and prejudice against women and homosexuals.

Right after he was sworn in, Bush pulled the plug on money for international organizations which oppose a ban on abortion. But it's not just liberals and women's groups who will be in for hard times. Scientists fear restrictions in genetic research. Bush indicated he will do away with money for research in embryonic stem cells.

In his inaugural speech on January 20 the Methodist was already handing down new marching instructions. "Some needs and hurts are so deep that only consolation or the prayer of a minister can help a person," said Bush. "But what about all the millions of Americans who do not believe in Jesus Christ?" asks Laura Murphy of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Bush is trying to mollify the critics. He assures that everybody must have access to state assistance organizations. Besides that he has repeatedly included all religious currents. "Church and welfare, synagogue and mosque all lend humanity to our communities, and they will assume a respectable place in our plans and laws," he said after his swearing in.

Religious writings and good intentions will soon not just be decorating the prison walls of Texas, Iowa and Kansas. Christians say their statistics prove what they are doing: in Texas usually 40 percent of inmates are behind bars again after their release. In contrast only 2 of 73 prisoners in the Bible establishment in Houston returned.

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