While the Bush administration’s “faith based initiative” deserves credit for both recognizing the vital role that religious charities play in society and for seeking to end the public discrimination against the work of religious groups, some troubling issues continue to surface. Groups of the political and religious left have opposed this initiative based on erroneous and caricatured interpretations of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, but that is not the real danger. The real danger of this proposal lies not in some fictitious breach in “the wall between church and state”, but in the use of taxpayer dollars to fund secular environmental ideology dressed up in “faith-based” clothing.
The trouble starts with the way in which the policy is designed to work—leveling the regulatory playing field so that faith-based activists can directly compete for government cash, instead of pursuing private funding sources. The unintended consequences of this could not be more clearly seen than in the wake of the White House’s recent proposal to “…expand its faith-based initiative in order to fund religious groups dedicated to environmental causes like ‘global warming.” 1 That religious belief entails the responsibility of proper stewardship of God’s creation is not disputed. As has been argued before in this space, though, groups with radical views on the environment generally depart from or distort a genuine ethic of stewardship.
If the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) current grant process serves as any indicator of how this funding scheme will work, then it is quite likely that many radical environmental groups will get religion in order to get the dollars. Partnerships between such prominent groups as the Sierra Club and the National Council of Churches evidence that common cause can be made between radical greens and the religious in service of environmental ideology. Many of the most radical environmental groups in the United States currently receive funding from the federal government, via the EPA grant process. Interestingly, many of these grants are non-competitive, but even those that are competitive are awarded to groups with agendas that should give taxpayers some pause.
A report issued by the Cato Institute shows that between 1995 and 1999 the EPA gave more than $6 million to activist groups whose purpose is to work against the development of new roads and homebuilding. Specifically, hundreds of thousands of dollars went to the Environmental Defense Fund, an activist group known for its campaign against McDonalds over its packaging and its crusade against “urban sprawl.” 2
And this is just the start.
Between 1996 and 2001, the EPA provided $4.6 million to the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC). The NRDC is known for its extreme positions and alarmist rhetoric. A good example of NRDC’s tactics is its “Give Swordfish a Break!” campaign, launched to protect the Atlantic Swordfish from over-fishing and extinction. NRDC raised a good deal of money and generated a great deal of publicity with this campaign, despite the fact that the National Marine Fisheries Service had made it very clear the Atlantic Swordfish was not in jeopardy.
The EPA also granted $3.2 million to the Tides Foundation and the Tides Center over an eight-year period. The Tides Foundation and Center are not themselves activist organizations; rather, they serve as grant-making bodies to a variety of radical environmental activist groups. It seems that the Tides Foundation and Center receive grants and collect money from individuals, foundations, and government sources. They then distribute funds in the form of grants to groups like Greenpeace and the Ruckus Society. 3
This arrangement is indicative of a widespread practice among radical environmental groups of shifting funds among themselves. Such schemes make it nearly impossible to follow the money trail or to determine the size and scope of many activist groups. While such practices may not be illegal or technically unethical, they do constitute a lack of financial transparency and accountability.
Another illustration of this kind of opaque funding arrangement is Health Care Without Harm (HCWH). It too is a nebulous, large organization that has only recently acquired independent tax status. In the past it has operated out of the infrastructure provided by other radical environmental groups and is driven by a Greenpeace-sponsored agenda to eliminate the use of poly vinyl chloride (PVC) plastics from medical use. 4 Its issues include replacing PVC tubing with non-PVC plastics, and advocating the use of alternative non-PVC polymers based on dubious emerging science. One close HCWH associate, Carol Galligan of the Sustainable Hospitals Project, has even indicated support for the use of glass bottles instead of PVC plastic bags to store blood. 5 Since money moves seamlessly between HCWH sponsoring agencies and is rarely used exclusively for the reasons specified in the grant, it is difficult to determine how much federal money makes its way to HCWH’s coffers.
Outside of the large grants made to radical environmental groups, the EPA does make many small and visible grants – like a $16,000 grant made in 2000 to the Oregon Center for Environmental Health to fund that state’s Health Care Without Harm Campaign. 6 By and large, we know that taxpayer money is used to sponsor radical activism even if it is difficult to determine where the money trail ends.
With a large amount of government funding already going to radical environmental groups, it is unwise to advocate any policy, faith-based or otherwise, that would make them eligible for greater amounts of taxpayer dollars. Individuals and groups are entitled to freely express their opinions on environmental matters, but using taxpayer dollars to fund radical environmental causes under the guise of faith is an abuse. As such, the EPA, through its grant process, needs to quit preaching the green gospel.
Read Acton Institute's Cornwall Declaration for a Judeo-Christian statement on the environment.