Religious leaders throughout the state of Wisconsin released a letter on Thursday calling for the state legislature to reject Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to impose drug testing for certain recipients of government aid, arguing that the screening stigmatizes poor citizens.
“In our respective religious traditions poverty and joblessness are not indicators of bad character," the letter read, addressing Walker’s proposal to drug test recipients of FoodShare, BadgerCare Plus health care and Unemployment Insurance programs. “We do not believe it is just to craft policies that punish those who face these trials while also suffering from the illness of addiction. Nor is it fair to treat those who seek employment, health and nutritional assistance differently than those who need financial help with educational costs, starting a business or obtaining child care.”
According to Think Progress, the letter was endorsed by a number of religious groups including the Interfaith Council of Greater Milwaukee, the Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Council of Churches.
“Drug abuse occurs at all income levels,” the letter stated. “Tying drug testing only to certain forms of public assistance unjustly holds those applicants to a higher standard of accountability than the rest of us.”
“All of our faith traditions teach that human beings are made in the image of God and need to be treated with dignity,” Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, the head of Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice, said. “When you subject people to these shaming procedures that have no efficacy … its only purpose is to shame the poor. That robs people of their dignity and inner godliness. We’re putting up barriers that are keeping people hungry and in poverty, and not addressing their needs.”
Other faith leaders echoed Margulis’ sentiment, with some even pinpointing hypocritical portions of Walker’s proposal.
“Many people receive public resources through one program or another, but they’re not all treated with that sort of suspicion or required to prove that they don’t have an issue with drug abuse,” Wisconsin Council of Churches executive director Rev. Scott D. Anderson said. “[Walker’s policy] singles [poor people] out … It has an assumption that they are more likely to be subjects of drugs abuse, but it’s actually something that affects all levels of society, and that’s really unfair.
“We shouldn’t be separating people into ‘us’ vs. ‘them,” he continued. “Withdrawing public assistance from someone because they failed a drug test … that’s not going to help communities.”
Photo Credit: thinkprogress.org