Good News for the Faith-Based Initiative

(Deal Hudson is editor and publisher of CRISIS, America's fastest growing Catholic magazine. He is also an advisor to President Bush. You can reach Deal at

Critics from the left have groused about government support for religion, while religious conservatives have worried about the erosion of

religious identity.

On June 11, the Supreme Court issued a 6-3 decision — Good News Club v. Milford — that helped the initiative to regain lost momentum. The majority opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, affirmed that faith-based organizations that rely on religious instruction to shape individual behavior must be granted equal access to government facilities and (presumably) funding.

The Milford Central School in upstate New York had denied the use of its building after school hours to the Christian Good News Club. In denying access, the Milford School District argued that allowing children from ages five to twelve to sing songs, listen to Bible lessons, and memorize scripture amounted to government funding for religious worship.

The Milford School District had no such problem with the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, or 4-H Club — organizations that explicitly attempt to shape the characters, attitudes, and beliefs of children. In other words, attorneys for the school district argued if you are motivated by purely secular principles to teach and inculcate the virtues, you are free to use public property but if you are motivated by faith in a religious tradition, the door is barred.

Using this criterion, the Nietzsche Society could use the school to teach youngsters to become little, self-reliant supermen and superwomen, but people of faith are not allowed to encourage children to follow the example of Jesus, Moses, or Mohammed.

It's amazing how intelligent people with good will can box themselves into such an absurd corner.

The Supreme Court explicitly renounced such a logic. The Court found there is “no logical difference in kind” between secular and religious programs of character training.

In overturning the lower court ruling, Justice Thomas wrote, “According to the Court of Appeals, reliance on Christian principles taints moral or character instruction in a way that other foundations for thought or viewpoints do not. We, however, have never reached such a conclusion.”

Henceforward there can be no “viewpoint discrimination,” a ruling that comes at the right moment to answer the critics of John DiIulio and his Office of Faith and Community Initiatives. Speaking to a small group of Catholics at the White House recently, DiIulio praised the Good News Club decision saying it is the latest in the series of Court cases affirming the role of faith-based organizations in renewing our society.

James P. Kelly, III, General Counsel of the Solidarity Center for Law and Justice in Atlanta, who wrote an influential amicus brief for the case, called the decision a “watershed event” saying, “… granting equal access to all youth development organizations assures adherence to the principle of neutrality towards religion…”

Being neutral does not mean religion is excluded, as this principle is commonly interpreted in the press. It means that religious groups have just as much right to spread their influence in the public arena as anyone else.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage