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Watching the offering plate
As a former accountant I compliment Burtman on an intelligent analysis of the John Hyman Foundation's financial fiasco ["A Sinking Foundation," May 21]. The reckless irresponsible behavior of this faith-based organization with state funds and its disregard for the needy population it was supposed to serve raises a vital question, as Burtman astutely points out, about the whole issue of President Bush's initiative to federally fund such organizations and their accountability.

Traditionally there have always been some porous holes the our fundamentally important constitutional separation of church and state. Religious organizations, despite huge wealth, have had freedom from property taxes, have had exemption from federal taxes and have had freedom from any kind of accounting supervision by government, no audit requirements, no tax filings, blanket permission to operative unrestricted. Who knows what financial mishaps and misappropriations have transpired in these groups over the years? Is it really sacriligious or simply realistic to suggest that some of the clergy might have used congregational donations illicitly for personal use violating federal income tax laws?

Faith-based groups have been receiving state funding in Texas by virtue of President Bush's initiative when he was governor. The Texas Network Education Fund (TNEF) has published a report stating it is "impossible to document" one positive outcome of these initiatives. Document is the key word here. As long as the government does not impose the same standards for faith-based organizations (including independent audits, a ban and meaningful enforcement against proselytizing and employment discrimination), that they do for any other nonprofits receiving taxpayer funds then we can expect many more instances similar to the financial farce at the Hyman Foundation. Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing, for example, is getting $500,000 to dole out to such organizations much as the John Hyman Foundation did. The organizations receiving these funds will likely be evaluated on faith not on functionality. TNEF also found that faith-based organizations were exempted from standard health and safety laws in Texas thereby jeopardizing their clients.

The concept of the faith-based initiative is a seriously flawed one that threatens the separation of church and state as never before. President Bush circumvented legislative approval with an executive order to begin the ill-conceived program. As long as it does exist we should demand and expect religious organizations to maintain the same accountability standards as the rest of us are subject to in our lives as taxpayers. Religious organizations may posture as "holier than thou" but as the old song goes, "That ain't necessarily so."
Hugh Giblin
Durham

Gimme shelter
I appreciate so much the article, "Ars gratia Dix," in your April 30 Front Porch section. Too few articles are written concerning the plight of the mentally ill--still in need of services--who are continually being discharged from state hospitals into the N.C. communities that are inadequately prepared to look after them. Thus, patients who lack good coping skills, due to their no-fault brain disease, are often forced to live and die on our streets.

The tents you so well described in your article were designed by Frances Hawthorne and Ann Kluttz, members of AIA--Artists in Action--a Charlotte group that uses art as a form of communication. They advocate for all homeless and mentally ill. The small, fragile tents were to represent the lack of shelter as well as the lack of services for thousands of mentally ill persons across our state.

AIA members and some workers from Charlotte Urban Ministries assisted with planning and making the tents. On tent-installation Saturday, they brought with them six Charlotte homeless people--some were mentally ill. They worked extremely hard because they, too, are concerned that more patients may have to live like they have to live. They are part of a program called "Homeless Helping Homeless." We could all learn a lesson from them.
Louise Fisher
Volunteer Advocate
Raleigh

Spoiled brats
About the proposed condominiums on Slash Creek to be constructed by Skip Dixon and Sen. David Hoyle ["Sunset for Hatteras Village," May 7], my question is, why do these successful businessmen want to do this? How shall we define successful? In refering to these two gentlemen, success means greed; lack of environmental concern; and a lack of compassion and understanding of the residents and good citizens of Hatteras Island.

As for Sen. Hoyle, I'm guessing he'll lose a great many votes due to his obvious lack of concern for anyone but himself.

Well, money is king, it seems. I was shocked at Sen. Hoyle's arrogance and Mr. Dixon's foul rhetoric. Their response to the objections of the islanders is incredibly like that of spoiled brats who throw a tantrum when they don't get their way!

My advice to Mr. Dixon and Sen. Hoyle is, take a good long look in the mirror. Hope you like what you see. You have to live with it!
Sylvia Lehmann
Raleigh

Not all bad
Independent editor Richard Hart [UpFront, "Upside Down," May 28] needs to understand a few things about Iraq:

Regardless of whether we find weapons of mass destruction, the Iraqi people and the world are still better off without Hussein. The Bush administration deserves credit for at least this. Of course, our occupation of Iraq is problematic; most occupations are. And to blame the undermanned U.S. military for the looting and unrest in Iraq is unfair for several reasons.

For one, there are many Iraqis who are happy that we are there (the children and political prisoners we liberated from Iraqi torture chambers, for example). Secondly, we should blame the looters for looting, not U.S. personnel. After all, they are the ones who loot. Thirdly, there is evidence that Iran has sent Shiite operatives into Iraq to undermine U.S. efforts. This certainly makes the issue much more complicated than Mr. Hart lets on.

And finally, there just aren't enough U.S. servicemen to control an entire country the way we would like. Because we do not have a draft, most of us will never experience the dirty work running and policing a country that hasn't seen freedom in over a thousand years. The least we can do is be grateful that there are people doing just that so we don't have to.

And as for Iraq being "in shambles," and the occupation being "utter chaos," will Mr. Hart still have this opinion once the sanctions are lifted and billions of dollars of aid and supplies and investments flow into Iraq? It wasn't too long ago when The Independent was decrying the Iraq sanctions.

The question is, now that the sanctions are on their way out, will Mr. Hart and the writers at The Independent give George Bush credit for doing what they wanted to be done all along?
Chris Speck
Durham

Nicer nukes
Thank you for your excellent piece on the risks of the Shearon Harris radioactive waste cooling pools and what can be done to minimize them ["What If," May 28]. It's the most complete, succinct, and clear explanation of the issue I've read. (I was also impressed that you were able to get some response from Progress Energy.) I'm very pleased that the Indy chose to cover such an important issue.
Debra Weiner
(A founding member of Orange County Citizens for Nuclear Safety)
Chapel Hill

Correction

The May 7 Triangles piece, "Utopia South," on Weaver Street Market's plans to renovate the intersection of Greensboro and Weaver streets in Carrboro, incorrectly stated that the dentist's office nearby planned to relocate. Dr. Debra Seaton will not be relocating or moving her practice.

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