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Mission Creep

On February 28, 2005, a conference on suicide prevention will be held in Portland, Oregon. The conference is organized by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center of Newton, Massachusetts, which is a contractor of an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

There is a program on that conference schedule that used to be named "Suicide Prevention Among Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Individuals." Brenda Bruun, a project manager for SAMHSA, suggested to conference organizers that the words "Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Individuals" should be dropped and replaced with some general reference to "sexual orientation".

When asked how binding this "suggestion" was, Mark Weber, a spokesman for SAMHSA, replied, "Well, they do need to consider their funding source."

In other words, funding for the contracting organization might be at risk unless the "suggestion" was taken. The name of the program has been changed.

Another suggestion was that organizers include a session on faith-based suicide prevention.

Now, as I understand it, the idea behind the faith-based initiative is to make it possible for faith-based social services agencies to compete with non-religious agencies for government funding. Take a look at the "Regulatory Changes: Final Rules page at the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives site. You will note that all the summaries of the rule changes at the various relevant agencies say essentially the same thing. Something along the lines of:

This final rule implements executive branch policy that, within the framework of constitutional church-state guidelines, faith-based organizations should be able to compete on an equal footing with other organizations for HHS funding...

Ol' Corpo is a confirmed atheist, but he actually doesn't object all that much to the faith-based initiative. He's in favor of whatever works for people as long as none of that darn old government establishment of religion stuff is going on. So, as a concept, the original mission of the faith-based initiative is acceptable.

But look at what's going on. We've gone from faith-based organizations being allowed to compete with non-religious agencies on a equal basis to -- in the case of the suicide prevention conference above -- project managers at SAMHSA "suggesting" that faith-based programs be included and if they are not, well, a contracting organization's funding might just be at stake.

That's mission creep, folks. As in, it's apparently the mission of certain creeps to not just allow you to include faith-based programs in whatever solutions you are seeking, but to also threaten you with the loss of funding if you fail to include them.

In the Olde Days, they used to call that government establishment of religion.

See: "Request to Edit Title of Talk On Gays, Suicide Stirs Ire" in this morning's Washington Post.


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