Coalition decries bill by Watts

Thursday, April 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ A bill that would let church groups use federal funds to pay for certain social services is ``unconstitutional and dangerous,'' opponents say in a letter to U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla.

The Coalition Against Religious Discrimination says Watts' proposal will harm religion, authorize government-funded discrimination and foster litigation against state and local governments.

The coalition comprises two dozen groups, including Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the National Education Association.

``Charitable Choice is not necessary to foster partnerships between religiously affiliated groups and the government,'' says the letter, sent Wednesday. ``For decades, there has been an effective relationship between government and religiously affiliated institutions for the provision of community-based social services.''

While providing these services, it continued, these institutions have maintained critical safeguards that observe civil rights laws.

``Taxpayer dollars should not be used to discriminate against someone because of their religion or religious beliefs,'' the group stated. ``It is both unconstitutional and morally wrong.''

The group contends that tax dollars could be used to promote a particular religious belief even though Watts' bill expressly bans outright proselytization.

``Charitable Choice presents the serious risk of undermining the independence and autonomy of our nation's houses of worship by making them an arm of the state,'' the group wrote.

The proposal by Watts includes most of what President Bush has in his faith-based initiative. Watts was in Africa and unavailable for comment Wednesday.