Faith is a key

It was a foregone conclusion that Americans United for Separation of Church and State would concoct a reason to object to the White House's latest faith-based drug-prevention project. As part of a modest and commonsensical approach to fighting abuse, the White House is providing religious organizations with pamphlets, guidebooks and Web sites that provide guidance on addressing drug-related issues. But Americans United Executive Director Barry Lynn said the endeavor "raises serious constitutional problems." He also said, "The Bush administration seems to think there's a 'faith-based' solution to every social and medical problem in America." We believe faith is a key.

In his zeal to deride the administration's program, Mr. Lynn conveniently forgot that, according to recent studies, young Americans also seek faith-based solutions to problems such as drug abuse. In March, the American Psychological Association found that adolescents who consider religion important in their lives were half as likely to use drugs such as marijuana than those who don't. And a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse concluded that teen-agers who don't view faith as important are up to four times as likely to smoke marijuana.

Mr. Lynn's contention that distributing anti-drug guidance to a wide range of religious organizations somehow merges church and state is bewildering. He never quite explains how this alleged merger occurs. What remains clear, though, is that countering drug use among teen-agers is a priority for most Americans. Distributing information to spiritual leaders on how to guide youth toward a drug-free life is a small but important step toward that goal.

John Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, was flanked by Christian, Jewish and Islamic community leaders as he announced the program on Thursday. Said Sayyid Syeed, secretary-general of the Islamic Society of North America, "we're proud to be part of this jihad on drugs and alcohol in America."

President Bush has long recognized that faith and charity are sibling sentiments. Giving religious organizations an opportunity to address some of this country's most glaring social ills comes nowhere near establishing a state-sanctioned religion. Americans in need of help — due to drug abuse, poverty, mental anguish or physical abuse, especially young people — need more than economic aid and physical comforting. Many simply can't even find a way out of addiction and those other problems without spiritual guidance and sustenance.

The White House's latest approach to countering drug abuse is well-conceived. Although we advocate a more voucherized approach, the central tenet of the White House program is valid: faith-based choice.