- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2000

All truth passes through three phases, German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said almost 200 years ago.

First, it is considered absurd, and is ridiculed and ignored. Next, it is seen as dangerous to the status quo, and is viciously attacked. Finally, it is considered wholesome to everybody indeed, self-evident.

The truth about faith-based programs seem to be hovering somewhere around Stages 2 and 3. Faith-based substance abuse programs, for instance, have been attacked and vilified (Phase 2) particularly by the traditional, therapeutic substance abuse treatment industry, which sees a threat to its livelihood. Government regulators of that mindset time and again have tried to put out of business faith-based programs that are successfully helping individuals overcome their addictions.

But recently, politicians on the right and the left have started competing to be first in holding up faith-based programs (Phase 3) as the answer to society's ills. Not only are Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore indicating their support, but House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and President Bill Clinton have just agreed to jointly introduce a proposal focusing on faith-based substance abuse programs. This provision is part of a package of legislative proposals to help low-income communities called the Community Renewal and New Markets Agreement.

Removal of hostility to faith-based programs was one of the foremost recommendations of the Grassroots Alternatives for Public Policy (GAPP) task force, which the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise assembled in 1995 at the request of the House Speaker. Through the leadership of Republican Reps. Jim Talent of Missouri, J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, and a host of others, the Community Renewal Act that stemmed from those recommendations now appears to have a bright future.

The bipartisan Hastert-Clinton provision on Faith Based Substance Abuse Treatment, which would apply nationwide, allows for religious organizations to compete for federal grant money, without impairing the religious character of the organization. It is similar to the pioneering Charitable Choice legislation of by Sen. John Ashcroft, Missouri Republican, that has become law in welfare reform and community development block grant legislation. Protections are built into the bill to help safeguard against government intrusion and interference in a faith-based provider's organization and treatment program, and ensures it cannot be required to alter its form of internal governance or remove religious symbols. People who object to a religious treatment program in which they have enrolled have the right to leave the program and will be offered other options, including a secular option.

National studies indicate that conventional therapeutic treatment programs, using medication and psychiatric counseling, have very low rates of success (a RAND Corp. study of cocaine use commissioned by the White House indicates that only 6 percent of heavy users leave heavy use each year).

Faith-based substance abuse programs have consistently shown results in permanently curing drug and alcohol addiction at rates far higher than those of secular programs, and at significantly lower costs. Victory Fellowship in San Antonio, Texas, for instance, has freed more than 13,500 people from their addictions over the past 30 years. Victory's success rate for those completing the program consistently ranges from 70 percent to 80 percent, at costs of about $50 a day. By comparison, traditional therapeutic programs have been estimated to have a cure rate in the single digits, at costs of hundreds of dollars daily. Other faith-based programs with high success rates include the more than 100 U.S. chapters of Teen Challenge, and more than 25 chapters of Youth Challenge of Hartford, Conn.

Even though faith-based programs do not administer medication, government at various levels has erected many regulatory barriers. Foremost among them are attempts by state regulators to make the programs conform to the same kinds of rules regarding professional staffing, staff training, and curriculum requirements that govern traditional, therapeutic programs and bear no relation to the way the faith-based programs give help.

Five years ago, we stood with hundreds of former junkees at the Alamo to try to save a highly successful program from the clutches of the regulators. The South Texas chapter of Teen Challenge, a successful, faith-based substance abuse program located in San Antonio, was notified in June 1995 by the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse that its license would be revoked. The reasons were distressingly familiar: the staff lacked what the state deemed to be the appropriate professional degrees and training, and the staff training program did not follow the curriculum used in the (far less successful) traditional therapeutic programs. After a public demonstration organized by NCNE calling attention to the problem, and negotiations with the state authorities by the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, Texas Teen Challenge surrendered its license but was able to continue its work.

The public clamor over this situation resulted in Gov. Bush setting up a commission on faith-based programs. Based upon the recommendations of the commission, Mr. Bush introduced legislation in Texas that exempts faith-based substance abuse programs from the staffing and training regulations pertaining to therapeutic programs.

Many faith-based substance abuse programs do not seek government funding. However, the Hastert-Clinton proposal marks a victory in acknowledging the power of faith and the acceptance of the its role in the process of healing. It also should pave the way for third-party payers health insurance companies, for instance to support those who might choose to go to a faith-based program to overcome their addictions.

Passage of this legislation will signal that the truth that faith-based substance abuse programs are more effective than traditional programs has reached Schopenhauer's Phase 3. Indeed, it is self-evident.

Robert L. Woodson Sr. is president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise.

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