Faith-based initiatives analyzed

April 5, 2001 10:22 a.m.

their worst, faith-based initiatives could become "a Trojan horse strategy for the 'theocracizing' of America," New Jersey Secretary of State DeForest "Buster" Soaries told a Princeton audience Wednesday night. However, he said, administered properly, the inclusion of religious groups in government contracting serves broad and important secular purposes.

"Our highly secularized culture should never reject the offers of faith communities simply because we have outgrown Puritanism and have become a sophisticated, scientific, technological society," Soaries said. "There are still non-empirical realities that form the foundation of a people spiritual forces that link us to one another moral imperatives that require our best effort in response."

Soaries, who is also a Baptist minister, cited great secular achievements that had religious foundations, including the founding of the YMCA, the Red Cross and Princeton University, as examples of how religious groups can contribute to societal good without imposing religious doctrines. He also told an audience of students, faculty and community members in Robertson Hall of his experience in administering faith-based initiatives to help find foster families for boarder babies and to help a major bank employ more people of color. He said that the church-state separation debate often distorts the Constitution, which he said protects religious groups from government and not the opposite.

An adviser to the Bush Administration on faith-based work, Soaries said the new federal approach is not designed to force zealot opinions on the masses but will ensure that religious groups who can meet government contract specifications are not ostracized. "To exclude them from participation is religious discrimination and nothing less," Soaries said.

Responding to questions, Soaries said that religious groups who participate in faith-based initiatives also must uphold laws, including anti-discrimination measures. He said that the government should not create systems whereby particular religious groups would gain monopolies over certain services thus limiting the freedoms of others. "The emphasis and focus should be, almost exclusively, on outcomes," Soaries said. "If you go to a Catholic hospital for heart transplant surgery, you can measure if it worked."

The lecture closed this academic year's "Crossroads of Religion and Politics Lecture Series," co-sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson School and the Center for the Study of Religion .

Contact: Justin Harmon (609) 258-3601