Praise for proselytizing fuels faith-based fears


WASHINGTON, May 29 (JTA) — Recent comments by the director of a Christian social services program praising the proselytization of Jews are fueling Jewish opposition to President Bush’s faith-based initiative.

John Castellani, executive director of Teen Challenge, a substance abuse treatment program, said in testimony before Congress last week that Jews at his center were “completed” — that is, had accepted Jesus — as part of their treatment.

Officials of the Anti-Defamation League and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism said Castellani’s testimony shows the dangers involved in funneling federal funds to social service organizations that might proselytize.

Both groups sent letters to Bush expressing concern about the White House plan to fund faith-based social service programs such as Teen Challenge.

Many Jewish leaders fear that an expanded partnership between the government and faith-based institutions could break down the constitutional wall separating church and state, infringe on religious liberties and imply toleration of employment discrimination.

Groups have cautioned that the administration’s proposal does not have proper safeguards against religious coercion. The latest incident only highlights Jewish groups’ fears that the federal government ultimately will fund proselytizing activity.

Under the Bush proposal, even if the government does not directly fund such activity, charitable choice laws will fund and strengthen organizations that make proselytizing a core component of their work, according to Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

“When speaking of the need for government to help faith-based organizations transform lives, is proselytizing of Jews and other non-Christians what you had in mind?” Saperstein asked in his letter to the president. “Are you prepared to lend government endorsement and support to programs or organizations with such an overt mission?”

In their letter, ADL’s National Chairman Glen A. Tobias and National Director Abraham Foxman said the testimony at the House Government Reform subcommittee hearing showed faith-based organizations would be either “unable or unwilling to separate their power to transform lives from their theologically grounded mission to proselytize and convert.”

Members of other Jewish groups — such as Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America and the American Jewish Congress — and religious liberties groups also spoke out against the potential for government- financed proselytizing.

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