Drug Czar: Give Faith a Chance

Times Staff Writer

Federal drug czar John P. Walters on Tuesday touted President Bush’s initiative to let faith-based drug rehabilitation clinics receive federal funding when he spoke at a ceremony for graduates of a Christian-based drug treatment center in Riverside.

“It is an honor to celebrate your miracles,” Walters told the 21 men who were recognized during the service at Teen Challenge, a sprawling residential treatment center. “I will pray for you as long as in return, you do the same.”

Hundreds gathered beneath an orange and white tent on the landscaped grounds to hear the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, including proud parents and recovering addicts. The audience also included children taking part in drug prevention counseling who were wearing T-shirts saying: “Faith. The Anti-Drug.”


Earlier in the day, Walters spoke about Bush’s initiatives in a marble-and-stone sanctuary that serves as a chapel for the addicts in treatment.

Bush has proposed $600-million in new federal funding over three years to expand treatment options. The proposal is being debated in Congress and, if approved, the money would be allocated to the states based on need and recovery plans. It would be given out using a voucher system and, for the first time, faith-based clinics across the nation could receive federal funding.

Teen Challenge, which receives no taxpayer dollars, could be eligible for this money.

“What the president has said is we ought not have a foolish bigotry,” Walters said.

“Institutions that connect people to God ... are crucial to the many millions of people who are in recovery.”

Indeed, men who were graduating from the program Tuesday, as well as men who graduated four decades ago, said they had tried secular programs but relapsed as soon as they were released.

Daniel Lopez, 21, said he was abandoned by his drug-using parents when he was a toddler. He became addicted to heroin when he joined a graffiti crew in Ventura at age 14. He began stealing to support his drug habit, was in and out of jail and became homeless. He tried counseling and secular treatment, but it failed, he said. Then he heard of Teen Challenge.

“The more I started learning about God, all the pain I had ... started to fade and I started to have hope again,” he said.


Lopez just completed his one-year resident treatment. He plans to intern at the center for four months, then hopes to go to art school in Venice to pursue his goal of becoming an art teacher.

Walters said that most recovery programs are not religious and that most of the new money would not go to faith-based groups. But having such programs as an option is vital for some of the 6 million people in the United States who need treatment, he said.

He called concerns about whether such funding violates the separation of church and state “an unnecessary debate” and compared the vouchers to federal grants that are given to college students attending universities such as Notre Dame or Brigham Young.

A spokesman for the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union disagreed.

“While the goal of drug treatment is laudable, we don’t believe taxpayer dollars should be used to sponsor discrimination,” said Tenoch Flores, spokesman for the ACLU of Southern California.

Flores said, for example, that the money may go to an institution that discriminates against hiring people of different faiths, or who are gay.