Right Watch

Right Watch

With compromise legislation stranded in Congress, the report card on the President’s faith-based initiative reads “incomplete.” Bush, however, has clearly succeeded on two fronts.


With compromise legislation stranded in Congress, the report card on the President’s faith-based initiative reads “incomplete.” Bush, however, has clearly succeeded on two fronts. He’s made terms like “faith-based” and “armies of compassion” part of the national vocabulary. And with faith-based liaison offices in five Cabinet departments-Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Education and Labor-he has injected seasoned veterans of the conservative movement and the religious right into important policy-making positions. Led by longtime “charitable choice” supporters HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson and Attorney General John Ashcroft, Team Bush is building its own “army” of Christian soldiers.

President Bush has invoked “faith-based organizations” as a solution to solving social problems numerous times since September 11. During his State of the Union address he pitched the USA Freedom Corps initiative and tied its success to the participation of faith-based organizations. Faith-based groups are at the core of his welfare reauthorization package. And the President’s drug war initiative depends on the unleashing of the “armies of compassion” with “compassionate coercion”-the latest twist on Marvin Olasky’s “compassionate conservatism.”

Fourteen months ago, surrounded by Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders, President Bush issued the executive order creating the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI). But the initiative’s first year was hardly triumphant as it met unanticipated opposition from the right along with predictable opposition from the left, and suffered from a dose of internal discord.

Progressives were concerned that the initiative blurred the line between church and state, while Christian conservatives, including the Rev. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, were mortified that groups like the Nation of Islam, Church of Scientology and Hare Krishnas would feed off government grants. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, claimed he wouldn’t touch faith-based money “with the proverbial ten-foot pole.” He was worried that any regulatory strings might strip the initiative of its “faith.”

The President’s faith-based initiative languished in policy purgatory for a year, but in early February, Senators Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Connecticut’s Joseph Lieberman delivered their bipartisan legislative makeover-the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Act. The “compromise” version opens up government grants to religious organizations but eliminates “charitable choice,” the most controversial aspect of the President’s faith-based initiative. (“Charitable choice” was the provision tucked into the 1996 welfare reform bill by then-Senator John Ashcroft. It allowed religious institutions to compete for government funds to provide a bevy of welfare services.)

CARE expands tax deductions for charitable donations and, according to Church & State magazine, provides about $150 million for technical assistance to smaller charities, helping facilitate their ability to apply for federal grants. It also sets aside funding for a “Compassionate Capital Fund” aimed at developing more public-private charitable partnerships. The overall price tag for the plan is estimated at about $12 billion.

Several religious right leaders were disappointed with the compromise. “We’re very upset,” Patrick Trueman, director of government affairs for the American Family Association, told the Washington Times. “The president’s faith-based initiative was the hallmark of his administration. If he caves on that, we can’t trust him on any issue of our agenda.”

And Pat Robertson, who expressed his doubts about the President’s faith-based initiative when it was announced last January, told Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes that “if the government gets into the faith-based initiative too much, they’re going to dominate what the people of faith think. And one of the things they want to impose is on hiring practices. They want to force people to be hired by religious organizations who don’t share the fundamental tenets of those religious groups.”

Although the CARE Act hasn’t been scheduled for a vote in the Senate yet, it is likely to pass when it is. Then comes the task of squaring the Senate version with the already passed House version, HR 7, which contains the controversial “charitable choice” provision.

New Director Appointed, Agency De-emphasized

In early February 2002, Bush introduced Jim Towey as the new director of the White House OFBCI. A close friend of Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Towey worked on Capitol Hill and as legal counsel in Mother Teresa’s ministry before becoming Florida’s health and rehabilitative services director under Democratic Governor Lawton Chiles. Although he wasn’t an immediate favorite of Florida conservatives, Towey redeemed himself by endorsing Jeb Bush in his run for governor. Towey also founded a Florida-based advocacy group called Aging with Dignity in 1996.

Towey’s appointment came more than six months after John DiIulio, citing family and health concerns, resigned as the first director of OFBCI. At the time of his resignation, conservatives were delighted: The Hudson Institute’s Michael Horowitz told the Washington Post that DiIulio had been “the most strategically disastrous appointee to a senior government position in the 20-plus years I’ve been in Washington. He has taken what could have been a triumphant issue and marched it smack into quicksand.” Horowitz’s statement is indicative of the negative feelings the appointment of DiIulio generated among conservatives.

Last summer, in a long cover piece written for World, an evangelical weekly, Marvin Olasky explained the Administration’s strategy in choosing DiIulio. It was “to show liberals that he was not in the religious right’s corner.” As far as the Administration was concerned, writes Olasky, “It would be fine if conservative Christians became irritated at Mr. DiIulio because liberal Republicans and Democrats would be far more likely to vote for measures and trust a man criticized by the people they distrusted.”

And irritated they became when, early on, DiIulio criticized Christian right leaders for not ministering directly to the poor, and when he remarked in February 2001 that “Bible-thumping doesn’t cut it.”

As for Towey’s appointment, Church & State reports that Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called Bush’s choice a “tremendous appointment.” And Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, described Towey as “sensational.”

In a follow-up move to Towey’s appointment, Bush de-emphasized the OFBCI by placing the agency under the wing of John Bridgeland, newly appointed head of the USA Freedom Corps. “A year ago, this initiative was the signature domestic policy of the Bush Administration,” Americans United for Separation of Church and State’s executive director Barry Lynn noted. “After twelve months of criticism from the right, left and center, it’s been downgraded to part of an office on volunteerism. With all of these problems, it looks like Towey will have his work cut out for him.”

Faith-Based Initiatives in the States

According to a report by Mike O’Keefe of the Newhouse News Service, the President’s faith-based initiative is chugging along in the states. Five Cabinet-level agencies “are identifying and removing barriers that prevent religious groups from receiving government grants” and participating in programs dealing with providing social services. O’Keefe cites a recent Hudson Institute study of fifteen states, which found that $124 million in grants have already been delivered to 726 faith-based organizations.

According to O’Keefe, HHS “informed states in a February 26 directive that state welfare plans would have to include a strategy on how they will include faith-based organizations.” The most disturbing aspect of the directive is that HHS is “encouraging states to consider church-trained counselors, not just counselors with psychological and medical credentials, when granting federal money to fight drug and alcohol abuse.” Elizabeth Seale-Scott, director of faith-based efforts at HHS, said: “We don’t want to present the same medical model over and over as if that’s the definitive measure.”

US District Court Rules Against Faith-Based Initiative

In early January, the public funding of faith-based initiatives took a judicial hit. Judge Barbara B. Crabb, of the US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, ruled that Faith Works, a residential program for male addicts, “indoctrinates its participants in religion, primarily through its counselors.”

Faith Works had received more than $900,000 from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and other government and private sources. According to the Washington Times, Judge Crabb found that the DWD funding “constitutes unrestricted, direct funding of an organization that engages in religious indoctrination” in violation of the establishment clause of the Constitution. She ordered an end to the funds.

Pew Funds Faith-Based Study

In late February, the Pew Charitable Trusts announced it had given $6.3 million to the Rockefeller Institute of Government (RIG), based at the State University of New York in Albany, to establish the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy. One of their primary tasks will be “to obtain a comprehensive, impartial body of research on…[the] complicated issues” surrounding faith-based initiatives.

Headed by RIG director Richard Nathan, the roundtable “will produce research on the capacity and effectiveness of faith-based social services, and on the important legal and constitutional issues surrounding government support of such activities.” The George Washington University Law School will join the RIG in the research, and Search for Common Ground, a Washington, DC-based conflict-resolution nonprofit, will play a “key role in the initiative’s major convening activities.”

Luis Lugo, director of Pew’s religion program, said the roundtable would address the pressing need for nonpartisan, fact-based analysis of the role of religious organizations in social welfare policy. “The reality is that we do not really know enough about faith-based social services-how effective they are when compared with secular alternatives, what they do best, or even the degree to which the faith factor is interwoven into their work–nor about the possible legal parameters of religious groups competing for federal dollars.”

Resources for more information on faith-based initiatives:


Faith-Based Involvement: The Welfare Information Network

offers far and away the most comprehensive clearinghouse of information on faith-based issues. The site provides announcements of new reports, studies and grant opportunities; an extensive list of WIN publications on welfare reform, fatherhood, “charitable choice” and other issues; federal and state-specific initiatives; technical assistance providers; and publications related to faith-based involvement. WIN links to a large number of organizations from across the political spectrum.


Faith-Based and Community Initiatives: Rallying the Armies of Compassion

. This White House website provides government documents, the President’s speeches and news releases to rally the troops.


“Charitable Choice”

: created by the Center for Public Justice, which claims to be “committed to public service that responds to God’s call to do justice in local, national, and international affairs.” Focuses on “charitable choice” and welfare issues, and offers links to current news stories, reports and studies.


Sacred Places, Civic Purposes: Congregations, the Government and Social Justice

: project of the Washington, DC-based center-right Brookings Institution, exploring “congregations’ proper roles…in lifting up the poor, and what their relationship to government should be.” Brookings recently published “Can an Office Change a Country? The White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, A Year in Review.”


The Center for the Study of Compassionate Conservatism

: Worth checking out because Marvin Olasky, the godfather of “compassionate conservatism” is on its board of directors, and several of his articles are available. www.compassionateconservative.cc


American Atheists

: follows church-state separation issues and has published important investigative reports on “faith-based” issues. Check out AA’s “FlashLine” section for breaking stories.

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