The speech of Shelly Hattan: co-chairman, metroplex Atheists, Texas state director, American Atheists

The speech of Shelly Hattan: co-chairman, metroplex Atheists, Texas state director, American Atheists

Hello, my name is Shelly Hattan I land I’m from Fort Worth, Texas. For the past six years Texas has led the way in implementing Charitable Choice programs. I’m here to tell you that Charitable Choice will fail because Charitable Choice has already failed in Texas.

Before 1996 when Charitable Choice was signed into law, charitable groups were eligible to receive government funds if they met the following criteria:

1. Obtain 501 (c)(3) status to allow public oversight and audit;

2. Remain religiously and politically neutral in hiring and treating clients;

3. Maintain minimum state standards of safety and competence.

The ONLY reason Charitable Choice exists is to circumvent those three requirements and still receive government money.

Money given to Texas Charitable Choice programs has been used inappropriately and without any form of oversight and grievance resolution.

The Jobs Partnership of Washington County, Texas, won a state contract through Charitable Choice receiving $8,000 of its $20,000 annual budget from the state for job training.

The programs budget and curriculum show that Jobs Partnership used state money to buy Bibles and that the program focused a great deal of its efforts on Bible study.

This is a program established to help people find jobs and the money is being spent on Bibles.

Charitable Choice has also funded groups that openly discriminate. The Community Enrichment Center, which is an organization set up to help poverty-stricken families, is located three miles from my home. The director proudly states in a front-page news article that he would never hire an Atheist because “that would be inappropriate.”

I went to the Housing and Urban Development Department with what I thought was a smoking gun — the director’s public admission that he discriminates against hiring Atheists. I found the center could openly discriminate and still receive federal funding.

I ask, what does discriminating against hiring Atheists have to do with helping poverty-stricken families?

This is discrimination — federally funded discrimination.

In Texas, Charitable Choice took the oversight of the health and welfare of children and gave it to an “alternative accreditation” board made up of pastors.

Teen Challenge is a substance abuse treatment center for teenagers located in South Texas. Before Charitable Choice was instituted, the state issued a 49-page list of violations in 1995. The state found that Teen Challenge violated minimum requirements to:

* protect the health, safety, rights, and welfare of clients;

* provide adequate services;

* comply with all applicable laws, regulation, policies and procedures;

* maintain required licenses, permits and credentials;

* and comply with professional and ethical codes of conduct.

This was a drug treatment center which was absolutely incapable of treating drug abuse. In 1995, then Governor George W Bush stated: “Teen Challenge should view itself as a pioneer in how Texas approaches faith-based programs.”

I couldn’t agree more.

The entire alternative accreditation process was dismantled in the spring of 2001.

What has Charitable Choice accomplished in Texas?

* State money is being spent unwisely and without accountability.

* State money is supporting discrimination.

* State money is funding incompetence and abuse.

And despite this impressive record of failure, President Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft want to expand this mess nationwide.

I say no.

Shelly Hattan may be reached at:

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