TV evangelist Pat Robertson has questioned President Bush's faith- based welfare reforms, saying he fears such controversial groups as the Hare Krishnas and the Church of Scientology may soon get public funds to offer social services once provided by the government.
Robertson responded to reports that alternative religions -- along with more traditional churches, synagogues and mosques -- are lining up for millions of dollars in "charitable choice" welfare funds. Speaking this week to viewers of his "700 Club" Christian talk television show, Robertson said expanded government funding of religious charities "could be a real Pandora's box."
Robertson, a former GOP presidential candidate and one of Bush's strongest supporters on the Christian right, pointed to plans by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church to promote its sexual abstinence programs in public schools with government funds.
The TV preacher also fears the Church of Scientology will use Bush's faith- based welfare reform plan to expand its Narconon drug treatment program. He said Moon's church uses "brainwashing techniques" on recruits, while the Church of Scientology is "accused of all sorts of underhanded tactics."
Robertson said he was concerned that public funding of controversial cults could jeopardize Bush's plan to provide more tax money to Christian, Jewish and Muslim social service organizations. "I really don't know what to do," Robertson told his television audience. "What seems to be such a great initiative can rise up to bite the organizations and the federal government. I'm a little concerned about it, frankly."
Robertson, a founder of the conservative Christian Coalition, could not be reached yesterday to elaborate on his comments, which were broadcast Tuesday to his nationwide flock.
Leading Unification Church members deny they brainwash anyone. One longtime member said yesterday his church is as entitled to government money as any other religious charity. "You have to open it to all religions or no religions," said Mose Durst of Berkeley, a former national president of the Unification Church.
Jeff Quiros, a spokesman for the San Francisco Church of Scientology, yesterday referred questions about Robertson's remarks to international Scientology spokesman Aron Mason, who could not be reached for comment. Robertson's televised questioning of the Bush plan comes the same week the Bush administration opened its new Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
Some liberal leaders, constitutional experts and Jewish groups have attacked the initiative, calling it an attempt to dump the poor on church doorsteps. They also say it will force the government to choose which religions are worthy of federal funds. According to the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Robertson's comments indicate that Bush's proposal is in "enormous political trouble."
In fact, many conservative evangelical and some Roman Catholic charities already oppose the limited charitable choice programs begun during the Clinton administration. They say government money always comes with too many strings attached.
During the presidential campaign, Bush was asked if he would approve of government funding for a Church of Scientology anti-drug program. "I have a problem with the teachings of Scientology being viewed on the same par as Judaism or Christianity," he said. "But I am interested in results. " Earlier this month, Bush said his administration "welcomes all religions" to participate in his welfare reform.
Asked about Robertson's comments, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said, "We think this program is based on sound principles, and that it is the right thing to do, and the president is very committed to it."