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by Bill Berkowitz

Conservative Islam, Christianity Join In Hatred Of Condoms

(IPS) -- For several years, Christian organizations like Catholic Relief Services, the Salvation Army and World Vision have been involved with a number of HIV/AIDS-related programs in Africa and Asia.

Since the advent of President Bush's faith-based initiative, however, Christian groups with a sharply honed conservative political agenda have become major players in AIDS work.

Convincing the Bush administration to be more involved in the humanitarian crisis in Darfur hasn't stirred nearly the controversy as Christian conservative groups' involvement in the administration's highly touted $15 billion Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

Announced during the State of the Union address in January 2003, the goals of the project were to provide treatment for HIV-infected people, prevent new HIV infections, and support people infected with HIV and affected by AIDS in 15 targeted countries: Botswana, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Guyana, Haiti, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam and Zambia.

The administration quickly developed a New Partners Initiative that focused on bringing faith-based organizations -- groups that Bush has repeatedly referred to as "armies of compassion" -- on board to do the work on the ground in these countries.

The project, under the leadership of Ambassador Randall L. Tobias, the U.S. Global AIDS coordinator, who was recently nominated to head the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and be the first director of foreign assistance at the State Department, has been riddled with controversy from the outset. It is one example of how politically well-connected U.S. religious organizations have not only received substantial grants to carry out AIDS education policy, but appear to be shaping that policy as well.

"Thanks to pressure by conservatives in Congress, such as Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, Pres. Bush's global AIDS coordinator must dedicate a third of all prevention monies, or one billion dollars, to unproven abstinence-only initiatives and give priority to faith-based organizations," Esther Kaplan told IPS in an e-mail interview.

Kaplan, a contributing editor at POZ, the national AIDS magazine, and the author of "With God on Their Side: George W. Bush and the Christian Right," pointed out that "this has meant multi-million-dollar grants to such faith-based organizations as Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse, which has little or no background in providing HIV/AIDS services."

"As Helen Epstein has documented in the New York Review of Books, some of these faith-based abstinence-only grantees are engaged in little more than thinly veiled Christian proselytizing," Kaplan said.

"Even when grantees are spending the money on abstinence-only education, the results may be devastating, as there is no data supporting the idea that abstinence-only education successfully promotes abstinence -- or reduces HIV transmission," she said.

"Yet while decades of research support the dramatic impact of comprehensive safer sex and condom distribution programs, recipients of these abstinence grants are disallowed from promoting condom use, distributing condoms, or educating about their proper usage. In effect, this program is morality masquerading as public policy, and the public health effects could be devastating."

In an earlier post at Talk to Action, a weblog focusing on the activities and strategies of the religious right, Kaplan pointed to a "leaked government document from the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator [that] shows that as of October 1 [2005] abstinence will now command two-thirds of sexual prevention dollars abroad."

The Bush administration has apparently redefined its ABC policy, a program developed in Uganda that stands for Abstinence, Be faithful, use Condoms.

Kaplan said that in Uganda, the program initially featured widespread condom distribution and condom education, producing a "massive uptick in condom use among Ugandans that contributed to a reversal of rising HIV rates there.

"The program was once described to me by a prominent AIDS advocate there as a 'three-legged stool,' in which no piece of it could function without the others," she said.

"But U.S. policy makers, and Ugandan President Museveni himself, have been rewriting history, claiming that abstinence was always the cornerstone of the program, and further claiming that in a true ABC program, abstinence and faithfulness are the only appropriate messages for the general public, while condom promotion and distribution are appropriate only for high-risk groups such as sex workers.

"This is a ridiculous distortion of history, and yet it's now being used to guide United States AIDS policy throughout the developing world. Conservative activists and politicians on Capitol Hill will often say that in ABC, condoms are the lowest priority and are only to be used as a 'last resort' -- an unthinkable attitude when referring to countries with infection rates as high as one in four. The cost, frankly, will be measured in human lives," Kaplan added.

The stated mission of Samaritan's Purse -- which is run by Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham -- is to meet "critical needs of victims of war, poverty, famine, disease and natural disaster while sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ."

Another group receiving faith-based money is World Relief, a group founded by the powerful National Association of Evangelicals, which has received $9.7 million for abstinence work in four countries.

Christian conservative groups have lobbied hard to convince the administration to give fewer dollars to groups that distribute condoms or work with prostitutes.

"We clearly recognize that it is very important to work with faith-based organizations," Dan Mullins, deputy regional director for southern and western Africa for CARE, one of the best-known humanitarian organizations, told the Associated Press. "But at the same time we don't want to fall into the trap of assuming faith-based groups are good at everything."

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Albion Monitor   March 17, 2006   (

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