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DiIulio is widely credited, or reviled, as "the man who provided the intellectual backing for the largest prison expansion in our history..."

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John DiIulio meets reporters on Capitol Hill, April 25, 2001 Stephen J. Boitano

Will Bush Faith Czar
Convert Again?

by Ana Simo

AUGUST 24, 2001. Divine Providence may have been trying to teach Americans a lesson last week when John J. DiIulio, Jr., the Bush administration's religious charities czar resigned a few days after the Justice Department and the U.N. released back-to-back reports confirming that justice in this country may be blind to many things, but not to color.

Although there is no terrestrial cause and effect between the reports, and DiIulio's exit, Divine Providence is known to work in oblique, metaphorical ways.

DiIulio is widely credited, or reviled, as "the man who provided the intellectual backing for the largest prison expansion in our history, most of it at the expense of... inner-city blacks," according to Vincent Schiraldi, president of the nonprofit Justice Policy Institute.

His 1996 report, "State of Violent Crime in America," which critics say exaggerated the threat of crime and the presumed softness of an already harsh justice system, and his predictions about a "rising tide of juvenile superpredators" poised to destroy the country, have had a lasting impact in molding policy and public opinion.

In the 1990's, the number of people behind bars in this country grew by nearly 77 percent, even as crime began to decline in 1992. There were more than 2 million people incarcerated at the end of 2000, the report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics said. More than 46 percent of sentenced inmates were black males, and nearly one in 10 black men ages 25 to 29 was imprisoned.

The fact that the majority of inmates in the United States were members of minority groups, and that the incarceration rate of African Americans and Hispanics was "particularly high," worried the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The Committee also expressed concern on August 13 over police brutality toward minorities in the United States and said there was "a disturbing correlation between race" and the imposition of the death penalty. The panel of 18 independent experts monitor compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which the United States has signed

The "superpredator" prediction didn't come to pass, and DiIulio, harshly criticized by some of his academic peers, made an ideological semi-U-turn and began working in the late 1990's with churches in inner-city neighborhoods, trying to reach precisely the same youth his earlier rhetoric was now sending to the slammer as adults.

His current fame as a "faith-based charity" theoretician cum activist, as smart as Bush's early "compassionate conservative" guru, Marvin Olasky, but far more palatable, along with his pedigree as both a Roman Catholic and a Democrat (two voting blocs that make Karl Rove salivate), propelled him to head the newly created Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives seven months ago.

There he is said to have worked hard to earn the respect of the evangelical hard right, which would have preferred Olasky or one of his acolytes in the post. In the end, he was routed not by them, but by Bush's beating of a quick retreat when the media got hold of a Salvation Army internal report saying that the group had received a "firm commitment" from the White House that it would be allowed to discriminate against queers while feeding at the upcoming Federal "faith-based" trough.

In the ensuing furor, Bush ran for cover — to Senator Lieberman, of Connecticut, who supports the "faith-based" funding boondoggle, but not the employment discrimination exemption for religious groups. After meeting with Lieberman, Bush primly said "we should never undermine the civil-rights laws of the United States." This has been taken as a hint that the White House might cut a deal with the mellifluous Lieberman, if that's what it takes for Bush to score a quick legislative win on one of his pet issues.

Religious conservatives like Olasky see this as another blow to the program, the first one being DiIulio's choice of funding via direct federal grants, which have more strings attached, instead of unfettered tax credits and vouchers, which they prefer.

DiIulio himself, who believes religious groups should be allowed to discriminate, declared he was "surprised" and "disappointed" that the anti-discrimination exemption, rather than "the social benefits" became the focus of the debate at the House, which approved the legislation, exemption and all.

Did he himself weigh "social benefits" on the one hand, against "moral evil" (discrimination) on the other, and opt for the first? Or, is this only an argument the man described by Administration sources as "a sage" and "a saint" advanced for the benefit of secular, relativistic liberals who might fall for it? The equation of moral and social benefit being at the core of conservative thought, one wonders if DiIulio believes discriminating against queers is salutary on both counts.

Mr. DiIulio is only 43 years old, a tender age for sage, saints, and academics. He has time ahead of him for several other conversions of heart, as he called the impulse that sent him to some of the poorest neighborhoods in Philadelphia, where he lives.

His seven months in Washington, frustrating by his account, undoubtedly will give him some food for thought. There are those baffling queers, and those depressing Justice Department and United Nations reports, forever reminding him of the limits, and vanity, of conversions of heart.

Related links:

For the conclusions of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination about racism in the U.S.

For an abstract of the Justice Department's Report on the U.S. prison population 2000, plus links to complete report in various formats.

For Complete Coverage of U.S. politics

For Complete Coverage Race and Class

For Complete Coverage Gay Mundo

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gay pride The Gully's ultragay coverage. Includes musings on activism, info on queers from Taiwan to Puerto Rico and more.

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