re-print is from Racewire, published by Color Lines magazine
WI - Easter Dethrow is a substance abuse counselor who works the streets
of Milwaukee rather than the halls of Washington, D.C. Around town,
he's known as the man closest to the reality of those struggling to
overcome their addictions.
a former abuser who now works as minister for three African American
churches in Milwaukee's central city, doesn't hesitate when asked the
main issue confronting treatment programs for substance abusers, or
what are generally referred to as Alcohol and Drug Abuse (AODA) programs.
says Dethrow. "There's no funds. People want help, but there's
nowhere to take them. There's no beds available for people."
the national media come to Milwaukee to discuss AODA, they don't stop
at Dethrow's ministry, which does not receive public funds due to concerns
of religious independence and whose message of increased funding is
not politically popular. Instead, they head to Faith Works Milwaukee-an
evangelistic residential treatment facility for men that has been portrayed
as a national model for President Bush's "faith-based" initiative
to funnel public dollars to overtly religious social service programs.
past year, Bush's plan has been mired in controversy. But the U.S. Supreme
Court's June 27 decision upholding publicly financed vouchers for religious
schools breathed new life into Bush's faith-based plans. The decision's
repercussions go beyond schools and bolster the conservative agenda
to redefine and privatize the entire public sector-from education, to
welfare, to housing. Given the court's decision, one unanswered question
is the extent to which religious groups will be allowed to overtly proselytize
using public taxpayer dollars, as long as payments to religious groups
are disguised as vouchers to individuals.
after the court decision, Bush visited Milwaukee and, speaking at an
African American church, extolled school vouchers, "compassionate
conservatism," and his faith-based initiative. He has directed
five cabinet-level agencies to provide public dollars to religious groups
that infuse their programs with proselytizing-as well as allowing discrimination
toward those of another faith or those who violate a church's teaching
on homosexuality, extramarital sex, or interracial dating. Bush is doing
an end run around the Senate, which has refused to pass a House-approved
bill that permits religious-based discrimination in hiring.
Democrats are particularly upset at efforts by the Education Department
to subvert last year's federal law on after-school programs, giving
a green light to religious discrimination in hiring.
troubling, Bush's faith-based initiative is a classic case of diversion.
By focusing on the need for religiously based social services to receive
government funding, Bush obscures the reality that public services are
woefully under-funded and that his administration has little intention
of changing that.
"charitable choice" has been used to describe legislation
allowing religious groups to receive taxpayer funding of programs such
as job training or drug treatment that have as a main component a strict
faith in God or Jesus as Savior.
and charitable choice remain a cornerstone of Bush's domestic agenda
for a variety of reasons: to placate Christian fundamentalists; to further
the conservative goal of privatizing public services; to woo black churches
and improve his eight percent vote from African Americans in the 2000
elections; and to divert attention from the fact that his administration's
focus on a military buildup and tax cuts for the rich leaves little
money for social programs.
African American community, Bush's faith-based initiative poses particular
problems. Many realize the political downsides, but the lure of money
Timothy McDonald, president of the African American Ministers Leadership
Council, which has about 60 ministers in 30 states, argues that Bush's
faith-based initiative is a clear attempt to silence African American
churches and to divert them from their traditional role as a "prophetic
voice" for social justice. "They are trying to buy the allegiance
of the black church," he says. "And that is to the advantage
of the Republican Party, because the black church has been a major thorn
in their side."
some black churches might receive funds under the faith-based initiative,
the major winners will be religious right and fundamentalist churches
with connections to Republican power brokers, McDonald notes.
at Milwaukee shows how the controversy is playing out in a city where,
for more than a decade, Republicans have been experimenting with how
to win over the African American community.
not surprising that Milwaukee is home to faith-based initiatives. The
Bradley Foundation, considered the country's most powerful conservative
foundation, is based in Milwaukee and has used the city and state to
promote conservative causes. The foundation has found-and funded-allies
not only among Republicans but among the city's African American leadership.
The Bradley Foundation, under the leadership of former director Michael
Joyce, bankrolled Wisconsin's school vouchers and welfare-to-work initiatives,
as well as financing overtly racist projects such as Charles Murray's
book The Bell Curve.
Works represents another cause Joyce has championed-funneling public
money through conservative church organizations. But for such a nationally
controversial program, it has maintained a low profile locally. What
is most striking about Faith Works is not what it is doing-currently,
there are only about seven men at the treatment facility-but what it
Works, for example, is not working with other AODA or religiously based
collaborations. It is not setting up a model that can be easily replicated.
It is not involving itself in larger policy debates such as the Treatment
Instead of Prison campaign by local churches. It is not adhering to
the same licensing and certification requirements as other AODA treatment
providers. Most of all, it doesn't seem to ask the right questions about
why so many people need AODA treatment and what needs to be done to
address the problem.
hard to escape the conclusion that Faith Works is mostly about a well-connected,
well-funded, religiously conservative group whose program is being used
to promote initiatives that funnel government dollars to religious fundamentalists
committed to proselytizing.
[Faith Works] were brought in and set up, period," says Mary Rowland,
a pastor at Reformation Lutheran Church who also works on AODA issues
with Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH), a group
that has led the fight for public funding of AODA programs and the Treatment
Instead of Prison campaign.
Works, housed in a former convent, was brought to Milwaukee in 1998
and soon after received state funding through the Republican administration
of then-Gov. Tommy Thompson, now serving as Bush's Secretary of Health
and Human Services. Overall, it has received roughly $1 million in taxpayer
dollars through the state's welfare program and the Department of Corrections.
This January, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb struck down the state's
use of welfare funds to the program, saying the money constituted "unrestricted,
direct funding of an organization that engages in religious indoctrination."
made national headlines as the first ruling on lawsuits challenging
faith-based experiments originating with then-Sen. John Ashcroft as
part of the federal welfare reform act in 1996. According to court documents,
Faith Works openly engaged in religious proselytizing, requiring residents
to attend prayer sessions and Bible study. Bobby Polito, the original
director who left a year ago to work in the Bush administration's faith-based
initiative, had distributed to all staff a "Faith Works Statement
of Faith" which began, "The essence of this ministry is to
develop a community of believers.
We are serving the Lord in
indication of how the Supreme Court ruling on school vouchers affects
other social programs, on July 29 Judge Crabb upheld the group's programs
funded through the Department of Corrections. The corrections money
did not go directly to Faith Works but instead was funneled through
individuals who voluntarily chose the Faith Works program.
Works has a capacity of 35 beds and since its opening has served about
140 men, most of them African American or Latino. Following the court
ruling, recruitment was halted. The new director, Jeff Figgatt, hopes
to renew recruitment soon and views the legal issues as more a blip
than a fundamental obstacle - especially given the Supreme Court decision
on school vouchers.
plans to expand its residential AODA treatment, possibly adding a clinic,
literacy/GED programs, and housing for adolescent women too old for
Works is not just about AODA," says Figgatt. "It's about helping
to restore the community."
its critics mute their concerns because the need is so great: why criticize
anyone who is trying to make a dent in huge problems of poverty, substance
abuse and unemployment? But add in Faith Works' proselytizing with public
funds and its vanguard role in Bush's political agenda, and concerns
says he is not involved in partisan politics and projects a sense of
amazement that Faith Works is perceived as part of a conservative Republican
political strategy. "We have to get beyond that perspective, that
somehow this is a political thing," he says. "We are apolitical
a nominally apolitical group, Faith Works has an impressively well-connected
board. The chair is John Hiller, a Republican activist who this spring
ran the successful Milwaukee County Executive campaign of Scott Walker,
a highly conservative Republican legislator. A founding board member
is Republican state Sen. Robert Welch, a conservative who unsuccessfully
tried to unseat U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl (Democrat).
Buyout and the Brainwash
Thomas Boyd, co-pastor at the non-denominational Christian church Matters
of the Heart, argues that Bush's faith-based initiative is being used
to win African Americans over to a conservative agenda by portraying
the Republican Party as sensitive to the needs of the African American
a buy off, but to me it's more of a brainwash," says Thomas Boyd,
who is also a community organizer with Wisconsin Citizen Action. "The
buy off is the money, and the brainwash is that there's always a different,
of that agenda is to win African Americans over to "a laundry list"
of conservative causes, such as anti-abortion and anti-sexual preference.
Part is to divide the black community and undercut its ability to fight
for a common agenda.
is so evident to me that they [the Republicans] are keeping the leaders
divided so they don't come together to look at what is really happening.
It's a classic divide and conquer. And if you ask me, they're good at
Boyd notes that school vouchers have fostered significant divisions
in the African American community. "We have pastors and churches
that don't even speak together, don't have fellowship together, or,
even now, talk against each other," she said.
Boyd fears that, as with school vouchers, the Bush strategy will win
converts among some African American churches that are eager for funding
to support their programs. Black politicians who think they will improve
their power and influence by being on "the winning side" are
also susceptible to the Bush strategy. This June, for instance, Milwaukee
Alderman Terrance Herron said he would switch to the Republicans because
he agreed with their positions on welfare reform, school vouchers, and
Boyd also cites the transformation of Howard Fuller, an African American
leader who gained prominence 20 years ago in struggles against police
brutality and who now describes himself as a "one-issue" person
focusing on school vouchers.
Last year at their annual conference, the National Black Caucus of State
Legislators debated the implications of the faith-based initiative.
was a very contentious discussion, a very hot and heavy session at the
conference," remembered Chuck Bremer of the NBCSL. "I do not
think this is as much about making good policy as it is a political
issue. In my opinion, it is another trick to slip us into vouchers.
And you know how gung-ho the Bradley Foundation people are about vouchers,
which did not end up helping poor kids in Wisconsin."
on the streets of Milwaukee, meanwhile, Easter Dethrow is thousands
of miles from Washington's policy debates, doing the best he can to
find help for substance abusers. And Bush's faith-based initiative has
little to offer.
a 30-day wait for men at residential treatment centers and a 60-day
wait for women, with a total of only 115 beds funded by the county for
low-income residents. Estimates are that 3,000 to 4,000 low-income people
in the county seek treatment each year. While Milwaukee County has been
able to cobble together about $13 million in AODA treatment programs,
the money "does not meet the need," especially for people
with children, according to Paul Radomski of the county's Health and
Human Services. Nowhere in Bush's faith-based plan is there a call for
significant monies for treatment of substance abuse.
too many, prison seems like the only alternative. As with other states,
Wisconsin's prison population has reached record levels because of sentencing
requirements that send drug addicts to prison instead of treatment,
and because of policing policies that focus on abuse in the central
city rather than more affluent suburbs. In the last three years alone,
for example, the state's inmate population has risen 14.5 percent, to
25,177. The prison explosion has particularly devastated the African
American and Latino communities.
knows that treatment works, and that residential treatment works best
of all. "But they don't have enough beds for people," he says,
shaking his head sadly. "Seems like they're putting more money
tells the story of a woman he knows who is trying to get into treatment.
"She told me she might just go and steal something, just to go
to jail, 'cause she's tired of using. But that's not right, that's not
normal. She needs help, not jail."
Miner is a journalist based in Milwaukee, WI
with permission from Race Wire, www.racewire.org