Early this year, Pat Robertson denounced the Bush administration's "faith-based" initiative, warning that the program is a "Pandora's Box" that could make legitimate religious charities dependent on government and finance cults that "brainwash" prospective adherents.
Today, Operation Blessing International, a Virginia Beach charity created by Robertson, is to get $500,000 in the first wave of grants to be distributed under the faith-based initiative, which gives federal money to religious organizations that provide social services.
Back in March, Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, told his 700 Club television audience that the groups getting funds "will begin to be nurtured, if I can use that term, on federal money, and then they can't get off of it." He added, "It'll be like a narcotic; they can't then free themselves later on."
Asked if Robertson, who is chairman of Operation Blessing, had changed his view of the faith-based program, spokeswoman Angel Watt said Robertson "is out of town, so we have no comment at this time."
The $500,000 grant award to Operation Blessing is one of 25 to be announced today by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. The money comes from what the administration calls the Compassion Capital Fund,which has $30 million available this year.
"We had over 500 applicants; it was extremely competitive," said HHS spokesman Bill Pierce. "We awarded awards to the best proposals and one of Mr. Robertson's groups, they put in an application, so they obviously must have been interested. You'd have to talk to him to find out why he did that or whether he's changed his mind."
Officials of Operation Blessing said the money will be used to help coordinate hunger programs with 120 local groups across the country, and to help the local organizations gain increased access to corporate and institutional donors.
The "faith-based" measure has been criticized by both liberals, who warned of a breakdown of the separation between church and state, and conservatives, who were fearful that the integrity of religious groups could be undermined by direct financial ties to the government.
One of the program's severest critics, Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an advocacy group, charged that "Bush is so desperate to win support for his 'faith-based' initiative that he's willing to fund religious extremists." Lynn cited Robertson's comments on the 700 Club that sinful activities led to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Lynn also cited media reports, that "investigators with Virginia's Office of Consumer Affairs wanted to prosecute Robertson in 1999 for making deceptive appeals about [Operation Blessing] but were overruled by the attorney general's office."