Someone Else's Religion

PAT ROBERTSON was right to question President Bush's faith-based welfare plan, saying governmental support of religious charities could open a Pandora's box of unintended consequences.

The TV evangelist and head of the Christian Coalition, warned this week that Bush's plan could wind up funding strange cults at the expense of mainstream Christian, Jewish and Islamic charities.

"What seems to be such a great initiative can rise up and bite the organizations and the federal government," he told his TV audience. "I'm a little concerned about it, frankly."

We often disagree with Robertson's political views, but we share his reservations and doubts about Bush's new Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

The plan to allow religious groups to compete for $10 billion in federal grants to provide social services for the poor has potential for great good, but also raises the possibility of abuse and corruption.

Robertson mentioned the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, Hare Krishnas and the Church of Scientology as examples of controversial religious groups already lined up for federal grants.

Are they religions or cults? Some argue persuasively that the very definition of a cult is someone else's religion.

In California, we are all too familiar with cults such as Peoples Temple, Synanon, the Church of Satan and Heaven's Gate. Would they be eligible for federal funding? If not, why not?

Bush says he "welcomes all religions." Does that include surviving Branch Davidians or Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam, which preaches anti-Semitism and racism?

The president's faith-based initiative is a well-intentioned effort to provide services to the needy. But, as Robertson pointed out, the government heads into treacherous territory any time it tries to judge what is and what is not an acceptable religion. Robertson and other Christian conservatives who have tried to lower the boundaries of church and state on other issues should take heed of their discomfort about government sanctioning someone else's religion.