A state agency makes a $92,000 grant to a church, which uses the money to provide a job for the son of the church pastor, who is also a state senator who votes on the agency's budget, among other activities. It may be legal; it definitely smells.

Those among us who believe in separation of church and state, as the Founders did, shudder to see the mongrelization of those great institutions. But the Bush administration has promoted it at the national level, and courts stacked with Bush appointees have allowed it. The state Bureau of Legislative Research says that it is “not unusual” for state agencies to make grants to churches. It should be.

The state agency in the present case is the Department of Human Services, which makes the grant even more questionable. This huge bureaucracy has a history of handing out contracts to private, profit-making entities, sometimes when there seems no good reason why the agency and its thousands of employees couldn't do the job themselves. The legislature sometimes creates programs for which private contracts are awarded by DHS; sometimes a legislator or former legislator's association with a contractor comes to light. A thorough and nonpartisan study of DHS contracts would be valuable. We commend the idea to Governor Beebe.

State Sen. Henry Wilkins of Pine Bluff, the senator/pastor/father in what we might as well call the Wilkins affair, says that it was the church's personnel committee that hired Hank Wilkins V as coordinator of a program meant to fight substance abuse. Without influence from the senior Wilkins, we suppose.

The Wilkins affair is a special case, but mixing church and state is always asking for trouble. Both presidential candidates are committed mixers, unhappy thought.


What leadership

Among the many deficiencies of the George W. Bush administration is that the president can persuade members of his own party to follow him only when he pursues unworthy goals, such as instigating wars. On those rare occasions when he seeks to do good, his fellow partisans desert him in mass. Such was the case when the House of Representatives rejected a bill to save the American economy from collapse. Two-thirds of the Democrats voted with Bush in support of the legislation; two-thirds of Republicans voted against him. He may have to feign opposition to a rescue bill in order to get one passed. 



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