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Should Government Support Faith-Based Initiatives?

Aired December 20, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Tonight President-elect Bush gathers religious leaders to talk about faith-based programs. Are they a good way to solve society's problems or a violation of church and state?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin. In the crossfire, in Los Angeles, Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California, and in Richmond, Virginia, Reverend Jerry Falwell, chancellor of Liberty University.

MATALIN: Good evening, and welcome to CROSSFIRE. It was another action-packed day for President-elect Bush and his truncated transition. Staffing the government continued at a brisk pace with the nomination of four more Cabinet members to the Treasury, Commerce, Agriculture, and Housing and Urban Development departments. And tonight, word that Montana Governor Marc Racicot has told Bush that he does not want to considered for attorney general.

On the substance of governance, Bush began fulfilling his campaign promise of "compassionate conservatism" by meeting with religious leaders to discuss faith-based solutions to social problems.

Bush practiced in Texas and promised in his campaign to provide governmental support for religious organizations to expand their community services. Despite the success of such programs, critics claim they jeopardize church-state separation. Other critics accuse Bush of attempting to split the black community by appealing to black clergy.

So tonight, old problems, new solutions. Should taxpayers fund religious programs? Should solving social ills take precedent over philosophical arguments? And should black clergy be beholden to a party or their communities? -- Bill.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Reverend Falwell, just so everyone understands, when we talk about faith-based institutions tonight, we're talking about churches and religious organizations which in addition to their spiritual programs, provide help with issues like homelessness or poverty or even unemployment.

Last July, Governor Bush said -- quote -- "Government should welcome the help of faith-based institutions." I have no problem with that, but my question to you, Reverend Falwell, is knowing that no federal dollar comes without strings attached, should faith-based institutions welcome the help of government? Aren't they taking a risk by taking those federal dollars?

REVEREND JERRY FALWELL, CHANCELLOR, LIBERTY UNIVERSITY: I really don't think so. I have never accepted any, because I'm sort of a renegade and I don't want anybody to tell me what to do. We have a home for unwed mothers called the Liberty Godparent Ministry where for 19 years now we have taken pregnant teenage girls. We have a national adoption agency. We fund it totally.

We have a home for drug addicts, alcoholics. We fund it totally.

But Prison Fellowship, for example -- Chuck Colson heads that great work -- they have partnered with Governor Bush in Texas, and there has been an experiment down there in the prisons that has been very, very successful.

I think that government could allow those who are doing a better job than the state ever could do in reaching to the hearts of people -- government can't be expected to be -- to change hearts, change attitudes, change lifestyles. Faith-based ministries can. And I don't believe that any sort of merger that is done carefully in any way endangers what some call the separation of church and state, which I think is nonexistent.

PRESS: Well, I want to get to that in just a second. But you said the magic words, I believe, which is you don't want anybody telling you what to do.


PRESS: Precisely. But you know, if you're taking those dollars, you're going to have to say with some of these programs: Under the federal law, you qualify, you don't. You know, you get so much money, you get so much money.

Isn't there a risk that the church is going to be seen then as the arm of the state by people in these programs? Don't you see a real problem with that? And isn't that why you have decided not to take any?

FALWELL: Well, that's a choice that I have made, but I do not see any problem with, for example, the prison systems in this country getting some assistance from people of faith. In recent times, even in our own state of Virginia -- we had a little bit of this; it isn't existent now -- there was hostility toward chaplains and Christian ministers coming inside the prisons when they're doing a lot of good helping the men and women who are incarcerated.

Mr. Bush has done just the opposite in Texas, and that's just one area.

I think also that in the inner cities of this country, pumping money in -- if that would solve it, it would be solved already. Billions have gone there. But Dr. Woodson (ph) was on another network last night with another broadcaster talking about, as a black leader, talking about what he is doing in the inner city, and how he is teaching self-dependency and self-worth, and having tremendous success.

I take it a step beyond that. I think -- I think the real ultimate goal of all this must ultimately be vouchers so that parents will have educational choice, and African-American, Hispanic, white parents can place their children where they wish with their tax dollars.

PRESS: We'll get to that later, too.

MATALIN: Well, reverend, we can't wait to get to vouchers. But congressman, before we do go there, the results or the regulatory oversight that Bill alluded to, at least insofar as it was practiced in Texas, was that results be shown.

And in Texas and other places where faith-based solutions were put into practice, the results were consistently higher than the public sector solutions. In substance abuse, for instance, some 70 to 80 percent success rate costing $50 a day versus less than 10 percent success rate costing hundreds of dollars per day. Better success rate, lower cost. Are we -- what's to be against?

FALWELL: Are you talking to me?

MATALIN: No, the congresswoman.

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: Are you speaking to me?

MATALIN: Yes, ma'am.

WATERS: Let me just say this: The African-American community is grounded in religion, and so it is not foreign to us to have ministers and churches who help out. When we couldn't get any government programs, couldn't get any help from the private sector, our churches provided food, clothing, shelter. They've always the center of African-American life.


WATERS: Let me just say that.

So we don't -- this business about faith-based involvement is not new, and Democrats -- Cuomo already has a faith-based initiative working with housing. So it's not new to us.

What we say about what happened today is this: The proof of the pudding is in the eating. It is not that you have a meeting or that you call the press in to see that you're meeting with ministers. You could quietly meet with them. It's what are you going to do, what are the programs.

We're familiar with what churches can do. The Catholic ministries are some of the biggest receivers of government funds of anything or anybody.

MATALIN: OK, congresswoman... WATERS: We do think there is an issue of separation of state, and we don't want it to go too far so that you have this overlap. But there's nothing new about faith-based organizations being involved.

MATALIN: Congresswoman...


MATALIN: Congresswoman, this is the first substantive meeting, other than Cabinet appointments and meeting with the leadership in a bipartisan fashion on the Hill, that President-elect Bush has undertaken. He has followed these actions in Texas.

So you're saying you will support his effort to...

WATERS: No, don't put words in my mouth, Mary.

MATALIN: No, I'm asking you. I'm asking you, Congresswoman Waters...


MATALIN: ... if you know that they work, and the president-elect has been reaching out today, then what are -- what is your objection? Why won't you support these efforts that you know that work?

WATERS: Just a moment. Just a moment. You don't know. You know, what I'm trying to say to you is this: First of all, you've described this as the first substantive meeting. We don't know what the substance of that meeting is or is not. We do know there was a photo-op and a lot of advance notice that there was going to be this big ministers meeting with African-American ministers involved to have a faith-based initiative.

As I said, there's nothing new about having faith-based initiatives. The Democratic Party has done it, too. If they come up with something good, something meaningful, something that is not just window-dressing, of course, we will support it. We don't know what it is at this point, and the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We shall see.

PRESS: Reverend Falwell...

FALWELL: I think -- I think the president-elect will...

PRESS: Go ahead.

FALWELL: ... is sincere, and I think Maxine knows that, too.

Most people believe that Mr. Bush is genuine in what he's doing.

You'll notice that he did not invite Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton or -- Reverend Sharpton -- or the NAACP officials, whomever. He stayed away from what Dr. Woodson, the gentleman I referred to a moment ago, talked about the merchants of misery: those who make a living off keeping captive everyone out there in the community, African-American community.

WATERS: That's an outrageous statement, Jerry.

FALWELL: He went -- he went right to the people. He went right to the people, Maxine, who...

WATERS: Jerry -- Jerry...

FALWELL: ... who are working in the trenches, working in the inner cities...

WATERS: To -- to accuse these leaders...

FALWELL: ... feeding the poor, doing the work.


WATERS: ... of being....

FALWELL: And Jesse -- Jesse Jackson....

PRESS: All right, Reverend Falwell, let her respond. Reverend, let her respond.

WATERS: ... is absolutely outrageous. That's an outrageous...

FALWELL: Well, Jesse Jackson is a reverend like I am. He and I are friends. He's a Baptist preacher.

WATERS: Jerry, Jerry...

FALWELL: But he certainly could never talk about separation of church and state when his entire PUSH program is funded almost totally by government funds.

WATERS: That is not true. That is absolutely not true. And you have described him as someone who is fraudulent, and I think, Jerry...

FALWELL: No, I don't think he's fraudulent. I think he's a hot- dog...

WATERS: ... that you ought to apologize for that.

FALWELL: I think he's a hot-dog.

WATERS: Well, I think...

FALWELL: I think that...

WATERS: I think you could be called a hot-dog, too. I don't think you ought to...

FALWELL: Well, I don't mind that at all. If you give it, you can take it.

PRESS: Reverend, let her... WATERS: I certainly hope you can.


WATERS: Because for you to come on national TV and ascribe to the leaders of our community these kinds of characteristics is just unconscionable.

FALWELL: Well, you'll notice they were left out of the meeting, and I think the reason is because...

WATERS: They didn't ask to meet with him.

FALWELL: ... the president-elect wants to accomplish something substantive and something meaningful.

WATERS: I'll tell you who was left out of the meeting, some of the most active ministers in this country who are doing fantastic work.

FALWELL: I think he'll get to them.

WATERS: They were left out of the meeting, and I want to tell you they're not asking to be brought into any meeting with the president. The president can pick whomever he wants to meet with. That's up to him to do.

He picked who he wanted to meet with. He can come up with whatever program he wants to come up with. Based on his record in Texas, we don't know that he's been able to do anything with the faith-based anything. He doesn't have any record on it, so we certainly hope he's got something better than he's had in Texas.

PRESS: All right, I hate to interrupt this love-fest, but we're going to have to take a little break here. Reverend Jerry Falwell and Congresswoman Maxine Waters will continue our debate with me and Mary, when we come back. And I want to inform you that the Reverend Jerry Falwell has agreed to be in our chat room right after tonight's show. You can log your questions to the Reverend Falwell by logging onto

We'll be back with more debate and let's talk about those vouchers. Are vouchers actually in serious trouble? We'll get to that when we come back.


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. George Bush won the presidency and did so despite snaring only one out of 10 African- American voters, one of the worst records for any presidential candidate. Yet he's already made history by naming the nation's first black secretary of state and national security adviser. And today he explored having black churches become partners with government in solving social problems.

Is he sincere? Will these moves heal the rift? Or what more does Bush have to do to gain the confidence of African-Americans?

Our debate tonight with the Reverend Jerry Falwell, chancellor of Liberty University, and Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Democrat from California -- Mary.

MATALIN: Well, congresswoman, one reason that there's resistance to Republicanism or conservatism among the black community is because there's the constant ignoring of the data in the way that you just ignored Bush's record of success with faith-based solutions in Texas. You ignore the data on vouchers.

Harvard and Brookings Institute did in three cities -- the District of Colombia, and Dayton, Ohio, and New York City -- a voucher study where African-American children improved 6 to 9 percentile points above their public school peers.

This is data you cannot ignore. Their behavior improved. Their discipline improved. They had all those sorts of conflicts, racial conflicts in particular improved. How can you ignore that data? These are real results for real black kids.

WATERS: There is no conclusive data about voucher systems being superior to public education. When you take a look at Wisconsin and the study that was done there, you did not see any difference or any marked improvement, and I think, Mary, you know that there is no conclusive data.

What we do know is this: African-American parents and the African-American community would like to strengthen education. We want our schools to do better. We want them to turn out a better product.

We want more money in the school system, we want to modernize the schools, we want after-school programs, we want teacher training, we want to reduce classroom size. That is what is needed to improve education in America, not only in the African-American community, but in the white community, in the Latino community, in the Asian community. And rural America needs an investment, a real investment by this government, in education in order to strengthen education in this country. It really is about what are we willing to do...

MATALIN: Congresswoman, can I say...

WATERS: ... to make every child successful.

MATALIN: I don't know how much data you want, congresswoman, because there was a study in Tennessee, a comparable study...


MATALIN: ... where classroom size was reduced among black students, and their improvement was less than half of the students who took advantage of vouchers in the Harvard and the Brookings. How many studies do you want, congresswoman?

FALWELL: And Mary, I can say this, that... WATERS: What you cannot do is you cannot say that you did one study on classroom reduction and compare it to anything. It is a combination of factors that make for good, strong education, including classroom reduction, including materials and supplies, including strong teachers, including parental involvement programs. It is a combination of all of these things that make for good, sound, successful education.

FALWELL: Mary, I believe that Maxine is right. I do want all of the things she wants for our schools for all the students. But none of that is ever going to happen until there's competition. And competition is never going to occur until there are vouchers available so that parents have their own tax monies available to place their children in the schools they choose.

And most black parents want that by most surveys, as well as white parents. When that is done, public schools will not be obliterated; they will just get better because of the competition in the nonpublic area. And I do hope that this president, this new president, with the help of the Congress, will be able to get vouchers as a reality in his next four to eight years.

PRESS: Well, Reverend Falwell...

WATERS: Well, I'll tell you, if I have anything to do with it...

FALWELL: Oh, I'm sure of that, Maxine.

WATERS: ... and a lot of other Democrats there will never be a voucher program in this United States.

FALWELL: I understand that. The NEA -- the NEA owns you, body and soul.

WATERS: We just -- we just defeated an attempt to have vouchers in Los Angeles, and they were -- they had even some black ministers who were pushing it in the black community. We defeated it soundly.

FALWELL: Maxine, you are one -- you are one of many, many members of Congress who've sold their souls to the National Education Association. But I want to tell you that if we can let parents take control of their children again, and parents provide the education they want their children to get, with vouchers, you will be very pleased what happens in your community and every community. Competition does that.

WATERS: You don't know my community better than I do, and I haven't sold my soul to anybody. I am a parent who raised my children in public schools. And I have great respect for public education. It needs an infusion of support and resources.

FALWELL: Money alone won't do it, Maxine.

WATERS: Many of you who talk about a voucher...

FALWELL: Values must be taught. WATERS: ... many of you who talk about (UNINTELLIGIBLE) where parents can take the voucher to any school were the same ones who fought against desegregation and bussing.


PRESS: Let me jump in here, if I may...


FALWELL: That is not a factor, Maxine.

WATERS: So let me tell you I don't -- I don't buy it. I don't buy it.

PRESS: Let me jump in.

FALWELL: That's all race-baiting. It isn't true.

PRESS: Reverend Falwell, let me jump in...


WATERS: I don't buy it.

PRESS: Let me jump in here with a question on vouchers, and I just want to ask you, Reverend Falwell, when are you going to open your eyes. Just less than a week ago, the Supreme Court -- a federal appeals court, rather, struck down the voucher program in Cleveland, said it's unconstitutional. So has the Supreme Court in the state of Maine; in the state of Vermont; in the territory of Puerto Rico. And the voters in California and Michigan on November 7th slammed voucher initiatives and said they didn't want them. I mean, don't you recognize these programs...

FALWELL: All those votes, Bill...


PRESS: Pardon me, my question is when are you going to accept it's clearly a violation of the separation of church and state and you're pushing the wrong horse?

FALWELL: Don't believe that for a moment, and the NEA fights it so fiercely. They spend millions of dollars.


PRESS: These are the courts, Reverend. This isn't the NEA. These are the Supreme Courts.

FALWELL: Now, in the courts -- the U.S. Supreme Court, if it is given the proper presentation of a proper type of program, and by the way, it may take two or three retirements and Mr. Bush may have to put in two or three justices before that becomes reality, but when we do get vouchers in this country, it's going to change inner city America, suburban America. It's going to raise the academic standards of this country and everything is going to be better, including values.

PRESS: Reverend Falwell, let me ask you this practical question: Let's say you're the principal of a religious school. Right now, you're free to set your curriculum; you can hire the teachers you want; you can accept or reject the students that you want. Why should you surrender all that independence for a cheap federal buck?

FALWELL: Because the fact is we have open admissions at Liberty University. If you can meet the academic criteria and you're breathing, you'll get in. You do have to live by our code of behavior. You can't use alcohol, drugs. We have no coed dorms. But at the same time, we have an open admissions policy and I am fully willing to say that the Christian school movement and the non- religious charter school movement in this country would be willing to have an open admissions policy the day vouchers becomes the law of the land.

WATERS: Yes, because vouchers brings along with it, I guess, some money that you would like to have.


FALWELL: Absolutely, and the quality education as well which they're not getting now.

PRESS: Talk about selling your soul.

MATALIN: No, competition.


WATERS: Sold your soul for a voucher.

MATALIN: Competition, the country was born on it and will prosper under it. Thank you Congresswoman Waters. Thank you, Reverend Falwell. As always, Bill and I will be back to continue the love-fest after this quick break. Stay with us on CROSSFIRE.


MATALIN: Don't miss your chance to debate Reverend Jerry Falwell online at right after the show. Robert Woodson, Jerry Falwell, the right reverends are so right to say that the old civil rights leaders are merchants of misery. President Bush has put minorities as his first and highest appointments. He's reached out to the communities. He's going after real solutions and yet your party still demonizes him. That is merchandising misery in the minority community.


PRESS: Pardon me. I'm not demonizing anybody.

MATALIN: Your party.


PRESS: I think it is demonizing people to call the people who are not invited to the meeting -- and I salute him for the meeting -- but to call the people who are not invited merchants of misery, Mary, I think is just not fair.

But I want to tell you something. I want to tell you a quick story. The principal of my high school, Catholic high school I graduated from, called me last week wanted to have lunch. I had lunch with him over at Loch Colleen (ph). You know what? I thought it was just a lunch. He asked me for $50,000 for the school. I'm not saying I'm going to give it to him...

MATALIN: Well, you could if you got that top margin of rate reduction.

PRESS: But I saluted the fact that he asked for it because that's what he ought to do, ask for private contributions, not federal dollars.

MATALIN: Red herring. You're changing the topic. You'll be able to give it to him after your tax.


PRESS: Private contributions, not federal dollars. From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

MATALIN: From the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Join us again tomorrow for more CROSSFIRE.



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