Is the Nation of Islam "Faith-Based"?
Jude Wanniski
February 8, 2001


Memo To: Rep. J.C.Watts [R OK]
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Republicans and the Black Muslims

On Meet the Press last Sunday, I noted you were surprised to learn from Rep. Charlie Rangel [D- NY] that your fellow Republicans killed the federal contracts that enabled businesses established by the Nation of Islam to keep drug dealers and hoodlums out of federal housing projects. Rangel brought up that bit of history in opposing President George Bush’s new initiative that promises federal funds to engage “faith-based” institutions to help treat the nation’s social and economic pathologies. As Rangel put it, "By every criteria, they did a fantastic job in removing crime from these public housings. Let Minister Farrakhan be the testing point of the separation of free public funds and religion, and I'll tell you, the Republicans would wipe out the program."

You really owe it to your fellow Republicans and to your fellow African-Americans to take a look at how what seemed to be a perfect rendition of a faith-based institution doing on a small scale what President Bush now proposes to do wholesale, came apart. Rangel is right in that it was the Republicans in Congress that undercut those programs. Rep. Peter King [R-NY] campaigned until he dynamited the contracts, which were originally set up under Jack Kemp at HUD and extended by the Clinton administration. You might ask Charlie if he did anything at the time in defense of the NOI contracts. As I remember he did nothing to rally the Congressional Black Caucus in favor of the NOI contracts. And remember, the contracts were not actually between the federal government and the Nation of Islam, but between secular corporations set up by NOI members to do business with federal and state governments. The excuse was that some of the NOI members patrolling the housing projects were ex-cons, but of course these were exactly the kinds of young black men who had turned to the NOI programs that exist inside the prison systems without taxpayer support.

The real force behind Peter King, a Catholic, was the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, who have worked assiduously for the last 17 years to undermine the financial health of the Nation of Islam. It really got ugly when they threw their political and financial resources behind the successful efforts to accomplish the same ends by pressuring state governments to end NOI contracts. In Coney Island, where there were fourteen 20-story public middle-income housing units occupied almost entirely by elderly Jewish families, the NOI contracts were ended when Governor George Pataki was pressured by the Jewish political groups -- over the protests of the Jewish residents who felt safe. The excuse was that NOI members were selling copies of the Final Call in their neighborhoods, but the weekly NOI newspaper is hardly a religious tract. As a friend of Min. Farrakhan who believes he is a good man, not “anti-Semitic” in the least, I tried to meet with Congressman King to find out how I might help work this out, but as soon as he heard what I wanted to talk about, I was not welcome.

With this kind of history, Congressman Watts, I'm a bit dubious about the whole faith-based programming idea, to tell you the truth. There is certainly a need for faith-based institutions having sufficient resources to be able to gradually shoulder the burdens that have been handled less effectively by federal and state welfare bureaucrats. Then again, I think the federal government should finance serious education programs in the prison system so that outside groups don't have to come in with money raised from their members, religious or secular. I'm vaguely aware that the ACLU has blocked some prison education programs on the grounds that prisoners should not be required to attend classes. I'm also of the belief that an expanding economy and rising real wages cut down crime rates and firm family values. I'd feel better about President Bush’s initiative if it had a sunset goal, when churches, synagogues and mosques were able to handle local social problems as they did in earlier times. Prior to the 1960s, when the burdens of the Vietnam war and the Cold War caused so many of the economic and social disruptions that have ravaged minority families, the faith-based institutions were able to handle most of problems their members faced because there were fewer problems. The collapse of real wages in the inflation of the 1970s and the insidious welfare rules that wrecked low-income families simply overwhelmed the churches and mosques.

By changing the tax law to allow charitable deductions from tax liabilities (up to some dollar cap) on top of taking the short form will increase charitable giving, on the margin. (Charlie Rangel should not be opposing this idea.) Ending the estate tax will flood the faith-based institutions with private funds. I don't want to see the President’s initiative fail, but I also think of the effort as one that should be designed to fade away when it is no longer needed as a transition program. Charlie Rangel is right, though, in suggesting the program might be blown to bits over the issue of the Nation of Islam and the clout of the Jewish lobby. It might help if you took the trouble to introduce the folks who are going to run the government program to the leaders of the NOI, starting with Leonard Muhammad, Min. Farrakhan’s son-in-law and the NOI chief-of-staff. I’ve spoken to him and he has indicated he would like to be supportive. If you can solve this problem, the program might be one that can last as long as it is needed.