HIV Prevention Grants for Religious Groups Draw Fire
HHS is offering $4 million in grants to fight drug abuse and promote HIV prevention in minority communities, but only to "faith-based organizations" or those "working with them," upsetting critics who call the proposal "hypocritical and blatantly unconstitutional," the Associated Press reports. The grants, intended to help organizations that work with young people in minority communities to simultaneously "address drug abuse and HIV prevention," are part of a larger $16.6 million program with three components, established in January before President Bush came to office. Only one component of the plan excludes secular organizations. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said that the component restricting funds to religious organizations is "totally inconsistent with this administration's constant claim that everybody should be on equal footing" because it excludes secular organizations from applying for funding. Bush has "consistently stressed the idea of equal competition" while advocating his "faith-based initiative," the Associated Press reports.
The White House did not comment yesterday on whether the HHS proposal "belies the president's principles," but one Bush supporter said he "hoped that Bush would order a change in the [grant] application." Lynn "promised" to file a suit to block the grants before the July application deadline. In addition, Lynn yesterday sent a letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson citing a U.S. Supreme Court case in which Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote that federal funds must be made "available to both religious and secular beneficiaries on a nondiscriminatory basis." Mark Weber, spokesperson for the HHS' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said that the legal issues were "absolutely" taken into consideration when drawing up the plan, adding, "We're very aware of what's constitutional and what's not." James Skillen, president of the Center for Public Justice, said that the "principles we're arguing for is there ought to be no discrimination," and added that it would "shock me off my feet" if the White House endorsed the HHS proposal. However, Connie Marshner of the Free Congress Foundation saw the grants as one way of "leveling ... the field" because faith-based organizations have faced "so much discrimination" for "so long" (Meckler, Associated Press, 5/17).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.