President Bush Launches ‘Faith-Based’ Initiative
In an effort to "invigorate religious charities and other [not-for-profit] organizations in the battle against the nation's social problems," President Bush yesterday signed an executive order creating the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, the Washington Post reports (Milbank, Washington Post, 1/30). Under the program, religious groups will be allowed to "compete with secular service providers" for government funding for programs that provide social services, including substance abuse programs and medical clinics. Acknowledging that the proposal would raise questions about the separation of church and state, Bush said, "We will not fund the religious activities of any group" (Dozier, Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 1/30). Speaking to a group of religious leaders, Bush added, "Everyone in this room knows firsthand that there are still deep needs and real suffering in the shadow of America's affluence -- problems like addiction and abandonment and gang violence, domestic violence, mental illness and homelessness. We are called by conscience to respond." Bush also signed a second executive order to "establish centers at five agencies -- Justice, HUD, HHS, Labor and Education -- to ensure greater cooperation between the government and the independent sector" and to "clear away the bureaucratic barriers" in these agencies "that make private groups hesitant to work with government" (Bush transcript, Washington Post, 1/30). The president plans to send a proposal to Congress today to "increase funding" for faith-based organizations (Chen/Rubin, Los Angeles Times, 1/30).
Here's a quick look at some editorial reaction to Bush's faith-based plan:
- The Denver Post praises the initiative, saying, "What the president has outlined is a modest program to better use the resources of government as well as religious and [not-for-profit] organizations" (Denver Post, 1/30).
- The Los Angeles Times offers a qualified endorsement: "Religious charities, if they understand the civic nature of their work, could be a vibrant addition to secular social welfare. But they cannot substitute for a broad nationwide safety net" (Los Angeles Times, 1/30).
- The Washington Post writes that the "line" between church and state is not "clear" -- for example, "religious sentiment" in a treatment program may help people solve their drug addictions, but, "It may sometimes prove difficult, for instance, to allow faith-based drug rehabilitation services without infringing upon religious freedom: How do you ensure that a secular alternative is just as readily available in the same community?" (Washington Post, 1/30).
- The New York Times writes that "Bush's ambitious proposal to channel federal funds to 'faith-based' groups to serve social needs is a potentially dangerous erosion of the constitutionally shielded boundary between church and state. ... [P]ublic funds for such efforts could end up trampling the rights of all Americans and hurting even those groups [they] intend to help" (New York Times, 1/30).
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