- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2003

The Bush administration yesterday called on religious youth groups to join the war against drugs and began dispersing antidrug informational materials to religious organizations as part of the president’s faith-based initiative.

The main guidebook, “Pathways to Prevention: Guiding Youth to Wise Decisions,” seeks to teach youth leaders how to handle questions and concerns about substance abuse. It was created by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

“As a measure of what still needs to be done, we need to be candid,” said John Walters, director of the ONDCP, at a press conference flanked by Christian, Jewish and Islamic community leaders.

“As long as [Americas youth] have, in their minds, the expectation that drug abuse comes as a rite of passage, we will continue to lose too many of our young people.”

Opponents of Mr. Bush’s faith-based efforts immediately criticized the program, saying the packets violate the separation between church and state.

“The Bush administration seems to think there’s a ‘faith-based’ solution to every social and medical problem in America,” said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

“The project announced today is one very small part of a larger crusade that raises troubling constitutional concerns,” he said.

Mr. Lynn said the Bush administration can’t seem to distinguish between treatment programs that follow medical and scientific procedures “and those based on preaching and evangelism.”

Mr. Walters said the pamphlets, guidebooks and Web sites are only intended as an optional way to empower churches about confronting drug-abuse issues, he said.

The drug-policy office has thus far printed 75,000 activity guides and 100,000 informational brochures at a total cost of $115,000, Mr. Walters said. Funding came from the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, a White House-sponsored initiative targeting children and teenagers between the ages of 9 and 18.

Recent research suggests religious involvement may reduce adolescent smoking, heavy drinking and marijuana use. Adolescents who consider religion important in their lives were half as likely to use drugs such as marijuana than those who don’t, according to a study published in March by the American Psychological Association.

Another study, conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, found that teenagers who don’t view faith as important are up to four times more likely to smoke marijuana.

Teaching religious youth-group leaders how to educate students about drug and alcohol awareness will help fight the “wreckage and carnage” caused by abuse, said Jim Towey, director of the White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Many churches he has visited seek ways to help treat addicts, he said.

“The reality is a lot of churches don’t know how,” Mr. Towey said. “This tool kit, I think, is going to be a lifesaver for churches that don’t know how to help, but want to.”

Echoing sentiments expressed by his other denominational counterparts, Sayyid Syeed, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, added: “That’s why we’re very proud to be part of this jihad on drugs and alcohol in America.”

Mr. Lynn, meanwhile, attacked the program as a solution that “raises serious constitutional problems.”

“The White House is ignoring vital constitutional safeguards. The constitution calls for a separation between religion and government, not a merger,” said Mr. Lynn.

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