Pubdate: Fri, 05 May 2000
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Section: Front page
Copyright: 2000 The Washington Post Company
Contact:  1150 15th Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20071
Author: Hanna Rosin, Washington Post Staff Writer


Putting Faith In a Social Service Role; Church-Based Providers Freed From 
Many Rules

CORPUS CHRISTI, Tex. - Over the door of one church-based drug treatment 
center in Houston, a sign printed in foot-high letters announces: "Drug 
Addiction Is NOT a Disease. It's a Sin." At another, clients pass by a 
poster of an addict in a hospital bed, ripping IV tubes out of his arms and 
throwing his pills in the garbage. An angel hovers nearby, offering her 
protection from this plague of prescriptions.

And at a Christian young adult home in Corpus Christi, police recently took 
the unusual step of arresting a supervisor after teenagers complained that 
they were beaten and roped to a bed, all in the name of Christian 
discipline. More arrests are anticipated, authorities say.

These are some of the results--expected and unexpected--of Gov. George W. 
Bush's "bold new experiment in welfare reform." With his conviction that 
religious groups can transform lives in ways government can't, Bush 
sponsored laws in 1997 that allow churches to provide social services their 
own way, outside the intrusive glare of the state.

The new laws exempted faith-based drug treatment programs from all state 
health and safety regulations followed by their secular counterparts, a 
list contained in a rule book as thick as a Russian novel that covers every 
detail from fire detectors to frayed carpets. Counselors in religious 
treatment programs now may skip the criminal background checks and hundreds 
of hours of training required of their state-licensed peers.

Faith-based groups that provide child care or operate homes for troubled 
youths can opt out of state inspections and choose to be regulated by a 
Christian child care agency approved by the state.

Since their inception, the new rules have been criticized by traditional 
caretakers, who worry that Bush has placed too little emphasis on holding 
religious groups accountable, and too much on the notion that faith alone 
can heal addiction and delinquency--despite decades of research to the 

"We've worked so long and hard to combat the stigma that substance abuse 
and delinquency and mental health are a symptom of a breakdown of morality, 
and to convince people they are an illness," said Bill McColl, spokesman 
for the National Association of Drug and Alcohol Counselors. "This would 
roll us back 60 years, right back to when people thought you were an 
alcoholic merely because you didn't accept Jesus as your personal savior."

Traditional social service organizations say allowing faith-based programs 
to regulate themselves creates a mutually affirming atmosphere, where 
groups of a similar mind-set could be reluctant to find or report abuse. 
The Christian agency that oversees the juvenile homes invites the 
superintendents of those homes onto its board, and facility supervisors 
inspect one another's homes--an obvious conflict of interest.

Perhaps more important, the critics worry that these are precisely the 
types of problems that would crop up in every state under a Bush 
administration, given his campaign promise to establish an "Office of 
Faith-Based Action" to seed the Texas experiment nationwide.

Texas officials say they're only correcting years of narrow-mindedness. The 
secular, post-New Deal world has shut certain churches out of providing 
social services, despite their obvious successes, they say.

"So far, government rules have reflected a 'one size fits all' mentality. 
But we have to respect the different methods," said Don Willett, a policy 
adviser to Bush. "In their view, addiction is indicative of sinful 
behavior; it's at root a moral problem that requires a moral solution, as 
opposed to the therapeutic notion that it's a disease."

They also argue that the system includes sufficient checks and balances. So 
far, the one Christian oversight group has set up its own stringent 
criteria, and when abuse is reported the state is empowered to step in.

The Texas experiment began in a spirit of defiance. In 1995, the Texas 
Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse threatened to shut down Teen 
Challenge, a popular faith-based drug rehab program, for violating a 
variety of state regulations, including hiring unlicensed counselors.

Bush sided with Teen Challenge. He convened a task force and called 
faith-based providers to testify how they'd turned around troubled lives. 
His staff then wrote and promoted legislation similar to laws in Florida.

The Texas changes took effect in September 1997, mainly targeting child 
care and drug treatment. Under the new rules, churches that once merely 
gave advice or pastoral care can now advertise themselves as drug treatment 
programs, simply by signing up with the state. So far, 58 churches have 
registered. And next year, the state will consider funding the faith-based 

Under the child care changes, the state has so far approved one Christian 
oversight agency, the Texas Association of Christian Child Care Agencies, 
which oversees seven Christian juvenile homes.

Bush's initiative was called "Faith in Action: A New Vision for 
Church-State Cooperation." In fact, the rules embodied the opposite 
philosophy. The main goal was to limit contact between church-run groups 
and the state as much as was safely possible.

"Wherever we can, we must expand their role and reach, without changing 
them or corrupting them," Bush said about church-run programs in July, when 
he announced a campaign initiative modeled on the Texas experiment. "This 
is the next bold step in welfare reform."

Even before the new laws were approved, Texas had no shortage of 
church-based social service groups, from Lutheran Social Services to many 
Baptist and Methodist homes around the state. But most of those traditional 
charities opposed the changes, and afterward chose to stay under state 

The churches that took advantage of the new laws were mainly from the more 
evangelical, independent strains of Christianity, part of the long 
Protestant tradition that believes the church is solely accountable to 
Jesus Christ and government oversight infringes on God's authority.

As a practical matter, oversight by fellow Christians instead of government 
came as a great relief to the homes. Previously, they'd been subject to the 
whims of state investigators. In its two decades of existence, Victory 
Children's Home in Alice, an hour west of Corpus Christi, has dealt with 
one investigator who called the home a "weird cult," another who opposed 
any form of corporal punishment and a third who pulled 11 girls from the 
home when he decided they were too isolated.

"We'd tell a person from the state the Lord really changed this girl and 
they'd say: 'Okay, uh, next. And who's the Lord?' " said Nancy Ruth Gill, 
the home administrator. "Now the people who oversee us speak the same 
language. It's not that we're trying to get away with anything. But they 
understand us."

Still, traditional social services providers have their doubts. "I continue 
to be nervous about whether folks who constantly work together will be 
strong in their determination to assure protection for children," said Phil 
Strickland, who runs the social service arm of the Baptist Convention and 
chose to leave his homes regulated by the state.

To these more traditional groups, the redemption-only cure ignores reality. 
The Rev. Buck Griffiths, who runs Christians Against Substance Abuse out of 
a Church of Christ in Corpus Christi, still insists on working only with 
counselors who have met the state's credential requirements. The first page 
of his client handbook says in bold letters: "Chemical dependency is a 
disease. . . . It is NOT a moral weakness."

"Initially it's a choice, and we're responsible for our choices, but some 
people are biologically or chemically disposed," said Griffiths. "We have 
to be realists. Sometimes people just need medical detox."

Social scientists say faith-based groups make exaggerated claims of 
success, long before there are any studies to back them up. Teen Challenge, 
for example, claims a 90 percent cure rate for drug addiction.

But no evidence supports that, said John Diulio, who favors the approach 
but is skeptical of some of the claims of success. A study by one Christian 
researcher considered favorable to Teen Challenge showed a success rate 
equal to the medical model--13 percent.

Teresa Calalay knew nothing of the statistics when she first thought of 
sending her son, Justin Simons, to Roloff Homes, a group of five juvenile 
and young-adult facilities in Corpus Christi.

She did not know that months earlier, the mother of a teenage girl living 
at one of the group's juvenile homes, shut down by regulators several years 
earlier but newly reopened by Bush's laws, complained to state officials 
that her daughter had been bound with rope and duct tape, an account 
confirmed by the state. All she knew was that her son would be away from 
home for the first time in his life.

Reluctant as she and her husband were, they knew they had to do something 
with their son. When he was a young boy, doctors diagnosed a genetic 
disorder that ultimately made him jumpy and aggressive. Nine times he was 
hired at fast-food restaurants, and nine times he was fired because he 
couldn't concentrate. Then came the speeding tickets and a fight with a 
friend that police had to break up.

Calalay heard of Roloff Homes through her pastor in Georgia, who told her 
they had a good record with wayward teens. So on March 10, the whole family 
flew to Corpus Christi to take Justin to one of the homes for young adults.

"I thought he would find himself putting out sweet feed and salt lick," she 
said. "And that he would find God out there in a field with a bunch of 
cows." She and her husband asked about the discipline policy and were told 
that if the boys misbehaved, they would be forced to run a few laps, Army 

What Justin, 18, says he found was something quite different. "Every night 
I always heard someone getting beat and screaming, saying 'Please help me' 
and 'Please stop hitting me.' I couldn't see them but I always heard them." 
They never saw the cows, or the field, but spent most of their days 
cleaning the kitchen.

"Lord, I am going crazy." he wrote one night in his Bible. "Please help me."

After almost a month, Justin and Aron Cavellin, 17, decided to run away, 
right after laps, but both were caught. At about 6 p.m., Alan Lee Smith, a 
supervisor at Roloff Homes, drove them into the woods and tieds their 
wrists, then roped them to each other. He took them to a 15-foot-deep 
sewage pit and ordered them to dig, the boys told police.

At about 2 a.m., Simons was told if he needed a break he would have to jump 
over the pit. He tried, but was tired and fell short. He wound up in the 
hospital with three toes broken, his ankles sprained and his feet swollen 
into useless clumps.

Police found enough evidence to arrest Smith, 42, and charge him with 
unlawful restraint, a third-degree felony. About one-third of the 30 young 
men and boys living there at the time have since filed complaints, and the 
sheriff's department expects to make at least four more arrests this week.

David Gibbs, an attorney with the Christian Law Association, speaking for 
Roloff Homes, pointed out that the program is for older teenagers, and 
voluntary. He described it as "military style," but said any punishment was 
"an incentive to encourage competitive behavior."

"As I look at the situation, I would hope law enforcement gets an 
understanding of the program, and the tough discipline involved, and sees 
if there are any criminal elements," Gibbs said. "And they have to look at 
the veracity of who is giving statements. Some of it is terrifically 

Texas law allows caretakers to use reasonable force to impose discipline 
and keep order, said Grant Jones, Smith's attorney. In any case, homes 
designed for young men over 18 have never been regulated by any agency. The 
Lighthouse, where Simons was staying, shares property and supervisors with 
Roloff's new children's home, and at least three of the teenagers staying 
there were under 18, but it is not supervised by the new Christian child 
care agency.

The boys' stories were not well-received in the church community that 
supports Roloff, where they are assumed to be the tall tales of 
undisciplined, unsaved boys. After the arrests, David Blaser, who runs the 
new Texas Association of Christian Child Care Agencies, sent two of his 
inspectors to Roloff to determine if the younger boys and girls his agency 
oversees were affected.

"These boys have a great imagination, I guess," said Blaser. "My men were 
down there and found out what the situation was. The boy claimed he was 
pushed and shoved and made to jump the pit. But he did it himself. He 
wanted to jump the pit, just like any boy always doing the wrong thing."

The home's defenders note stories of former and current residents who have 
told how the Lighthouse transformed them. "When I came in here, I was 
worthless, into drugs and alcohol," said Steve Summers of North Carolina, 
one of five young men still left in the home. "But things have been 
happening for me here. God's been blessing me here. It's like a family," he 
told a reporter for the Corpus Christi Caller Times.

Authorities plan to convene a grand jury next week. None of the boys has a 
spotless record, and the homes have a long history of litigation against 
people who file complaints against them.

The only one who seems to have found some peace is Calalay, Justin's mother.

"I believe God sent Justin there for a reason," she said. "So that we could 
work to make these boys understand that these people are not the face of 
God, that God is about love."
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