Yahoo News, February 1, 2001

Critics Question Bush Charity Plan
'I'm sorry, Ma'am, I have to call the police. Your son has been tortured,'

By Matt Kelley, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - Taking advantage of one of George W. Bush (news - web sites)'s experiments, Teresa Calalay sent her son to a Texas church home last year hoping to break his pattern of legal, behavioral and work problems. He returned weeks later, broken in other ways.

The 18-year-old's feet were swollen from severely sprained ankles and his body was covered with hundreds of welts, bruises and bug bites that led a doctor to file an abuse report with police.

The home's superintendent now awaits trial on a felony charge of unlawful restraint - and Calalay has sued the church for what she says was a substitution of abuse for Christianity. The home denies wrongdoing.

``I don't know where in their Bible it says you've got to beat God into people,'' Calalay said.

Bush as president is now promoting a plan to shift more federal social services to religious groups - as he did as Texas governor. The idea has early bipartisan support, though supporters of the separation of church and state are pledging to fight it.

A review of similar state and federal initiatives shows that beyond the political debate, these experiments have generated allegations of financial and physical abuse, questions of lax oversight and lawsuits questioning whether the needy are being force-fed religion at public expense.

Supporters, including Bush himself, offer stories of churches freed from bureaucratic constraints that have helped turn lives around. And they suggest religious groups are less prone to fraud and abuse because of their beliefs.

``Religious organizations feel accountable to a real higher power known as God,'' said Amy Sherman, a researcher with the conservative Hudson Institute.

Critics fear some religious groups, however well intentioned, may not have the training and oversight needed for success.

``I see in this faith-based initiative a situation where people who are really unskilled in the problems they are addressing ... are going to be given billions of dollars to treat alcoholism and drug addiction,'' said Marc Davis, one of Calalay's lawyers.

Congress has already allowed charitable organizations to get government grants for some social services, such as welfare, community development and drug treatment.

Several religious groups have been implicated in defrauding the government in recent years, according to federal watchdog reports. They include:

-Former officials of the New Jerusalem Church of God in Christ in Toledo, Ohio, who pleaded guilty to defrauding an Agriculture Department program out of $1.1 million.

-Four Hasidic Jews in New York were convicted of stealing tens of millions of dollars in federal housing and education money in connection with a fictitious yeshiva, a religious school. Former President Clinton (news - web sites) commuted their sentences before leaving office.

Critics also have filed lawsuits alleging some charities misused tax dollars for religious advocacy.

One such suit targets Faith Works, a program that receives government money to provide drug treatment and job training to troubled fathers in Wisconsin. The program was touted by Bush during the campaign and backed by Tommy Thompson, the outgoing Wisconsin governor and incoming secretary of health and human services.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation alleges in its suit that the program has used tax dollars to distribute Bibles and encourage attendance at Christian services.

Tim Patterson, Faith Works' director of operations, said religious services ``are offered but they are not forced on anyone.''

In Texas, a lawsuit challenges $8,000 of state money that went to the Jobs Partnership of Washington County.

``The problem with the program was they used their funds to buy Bibles and to teach that building a relationship with Jesus Christ was how you found a job,'' said Jim Harrington of the Texas Civil Rights Project, which sued.

The Rev. George Nelson Jr., the job program's director, told The Dallas Morning News that the program was voluntary and broke no laws.

The Baptist-run Roloff Homes near Corpus Christi, Texas, at the center of the Calalay case, has been the target of abuse allegations since 1973, when Texas authorities began investigating. The Peoples Baptist Church fought the investigation in court, but shut the homes in 1985 after losing a U.S. Supreme Court (news - web sites) appeal.

Bush supported a 1997 Texas law that let church-run homes for troubled children be accredited by private groups rather than get a state license. That enabled Roloff Homes to return to caring for youths, which it did in 1999 under the oversight of the Texas Association of Christian Child Care Agencies, whose board included Peoples Baptist pastor Wiley Cameron Sr.

In May 1999, a 17-year-old girl at the Roloff Homes reported being beaten and being bound with duct tape. A state investigation concluded Cameron's wife engaged in ``physical abuse, medical neglect and neglectful supervision.'' She is now banned from child care work in Texas.

Allen Smith, the homes' former superintendent, is scheduled for trial Feb. 12 on a felony charge of unlawful restraint in connection with Calalay's son, Justin Simons.

Simons told authorities Smith knocked his head into another boy's head and forced Simons to dig for hours in a 15-foot-deep pit. Simons said he was told he could rest if he jumped over the pit, and he sprained his ankles trying. Grant Jones, a lawyer for Smith and the church, disputes the allegations. ``That kind of abuse was not going on,'' Jones said.

Calalay said her son ``looked terrified'' when she picked him up from the home and took him to a nearby hospital.

``The doctor said, 'I'm sorry, Ma'am, I have to call the police. Your son has been tortured,''' Calalay recalled.

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