Clergy and laity say: Feed the hungry, end the war

WASHINGTON — Peace and religious groups converged on the Capitol March 14 to demand that Congress vote down President Bush’s war budget and restore funds to health care, education, housing and other human needs programs.

The protest was the opening salvo of nationwide and worldwide protests that culminate March 19, second anniversary of the Iraq war, with antiwar demonstrations in cities and towns across the nation and around the world.“The Bush administration’s Fiscal Year 2006 budget is morally misguided,” said a petition read to a Capitol Hill rally of 1,000 clergy and laity by National Council of Churches (NCC) General Secretary Rev. Bob Edgar and Interfaith Alliance President Rev. C. Welton Gaddy. “It suggests that we value military might and war spending more than the poor, families, and strong viable communities.”

The multiracial crowd, a cross-section of Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and other faiths, came from across the nation for the rally co-sponsored by the two interfaith groups. A total of 14,280 people signed the petition online at www.faithfulAmerica.com.

Bush’s budget, the petition continues, “favors permanent tax relief for the wealthy and corporations at the expense of burdening the poor, families, and communities with economic despair. … Congress must act boldly and creatively to oppose budget cuts in human services.”

On March 16, the House approved, 388-43, Bush’s request for an $82 billion supplemental appropriation for the war in Iraq on top of the $418 billion Pentagon budget. The Senate will consider it in April.

Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, father of Indian independence, told the rally, “It is clear that the present administration cares little for the poor and the needy in this country or anywhere else in the world.” He called Bush’s 2006 federal budget “both unjust and immoral.”

Gandhi cited Bush’s proposal to deny food stamps to 300,000 people in the next five years and end child-care benefits for 300,000 children of the working poor. Bush would reduce funding for Medicaid by $45 billion over a decade even though 45 million Americans lack medical insurance. Gandhi concluded, “This budget buys more weapons of mass destruction. We want more funds for moral construction.”

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said, “This administration is the first in the history of our country to ask the sons and daughters of working men and women to risk their lives in a war while asking the wealthy to pay less in taxes. … Is this really a time to suggest, without a touch of irony, that we redistribute wealth upwards?” Slashing health care for children is “an abomination,” he said. “We oppose the kind of crude social Darwinism that says, ‘You’re on your own, so heal yourself.’ We oppose the smokescreen of family values that seems to mean, ‘God bless me — and the hell with you.’”

NCC Associate General Secretary Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell contrasted Bush’s claim of “a renewed commitment to freedom and liberty” with his plan to wipe out 150 programs that serve the needy. “Is it wise to cut more than $60 billion for children and the needy?” she asked.

The Rev. Frank Gomez, director of the East Salinas Family Center in Salinas, Calif., told the World his Methodist congregation is struggling to provide for migrant farm worker families. “We are working with poor children, many at risk of dropping out of school or being lured into gangs,” he said. “Almost all the after-school programs in the public schools have been terminated by state and federal budget cuts. So the families turn to us.” The center’s tutorial program is serving 43 children and has a long waiting list. These children also face loss of their health care benefits and the WIC nutrition program.

Bush says faith-based groups will make up for the shortfall, Gomez noted. “Yes, it is being done. But it is not enough. We are here to protest not only about the budget but all the other things this government is doing that people see as immoral.”

Father Jack Orzechowski, a Franciscan priest from Durham, N.C., told the World, “They are dismantling the social safety net. It is hurting real people. Tell us how you spend the money and we’ll tell you what kind of values our nation upholds.”

In a separate action, United for Peace and Justice, the American Friends Service Committee, and the online group TrueMajority appealed for a flood of messages to Congress demanding that lawmakers “oppose the supplemental bill for Iraq unless an exit plan is included.”

Retired Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan writes in an e-message that $82 billion “is enough to feed the world’s starving people for five years or more and would save the lives of millions of kids. … Yet even as the quagmire in Iraq worsens, Bush continues to refuse to … specify when we will exit the country.”

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