Bush’s Faith-Based Initiative Continues


n 2001 George Bush surrounded himself with
a host of clergy and announced executive orders establishing the
White House Office of Community and Faith-Based Organizations and
Centers for FaithBased and Community Initiatives at the Departments
of Health and Human Services, Labor, Justice, Education, and Housing
and Urban Development. Since that time, six more agencies have established
centers, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Agency
for International Development, and the Departments of Agriculture,
Commerce, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Small Business Administration. 

Team Bush realized they could not get the faith-based initiative
legislation through Congress and, instead, instituted the initiative
through executive orders, thus avoiding a public debate over the

While anecdotal evidence abounds, after five years it is still difficult
to judge whether the president’s faith-based initiative has
delivered services more successfully than government agencies. One
thing is abundantly clear, the initiative has moved inexorably forward.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have already been given out and
more is on the way. The pool of faith-based organizations participating
in the various programs is growing and a number of states have come
on board as 31 governors have established their own faith-based
initiative offices. 

A series of regional conferences set up by the White House Office
of Community and Faith-Based Organizations are “geared toward
those that are new to the initiative, have no history of applying
for government grants, or have attempted to secure government funding,
but have not yet been successful,” according to the White House.
In addition, “targeted workshops” provide “grant
writing tutorials for certain Federal grant programs that present
the greatest opportunity for faith-based and community organizations.” 

years after Bush introduced his faith-based initiative, groups affiliated
with churches, synagogues, mosques, or other faith communities now
receive more than $2.1 billion a year from the federal government,
or about 11 percent of the $19.7 billion awarded last year to community

At a press briefing on February 6, Jim Towey, the director of the
Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, pointed out that
the president’s 2007 budget contained $323 million (36 percent
more than the $236 million in 2006) for a series of programs involving
both faith-based organizations and community groups. Towey explained
that the money “would include $40 million for the mentoring
of the children of prisoners; $100 million for the Compassion Capital
Fund of which $50 million would go to the initiative Laura Bush
has spearheaded, Helping America’s Youth, to prevent kids from
getting into gang involvement. The Access to Recovery program would
get $98 million. This is an innovative drug treatment program that
allows addicts to choose where they’re served.” 

Despite Towey’s ebullient portrait of the initiative, “Some
conservatives have argued that the Administration is insufficiently
committed” to the faith-based initiative, 

One of the main reasons the faith-based initiative hasn’t gained
congressional traction is because the Administration has allowed
and/or openly encouraged faithbased organizations to discriminate
in their hiring practices. Last year, in a suit filed by the Freedom
from Religion Foundation, U.S. District Court Judge John Shabaz
ruled that an Arizona-based prison program that had received government
money, MentorKids USA, violated the First Amendment prohibition
against the promotion of religion. 

The hearings revealed an even greater problem: the Department of
Health and Human Services—the federal agency that dispensed
the grant to MentorKids USA—had no system in place to monitor
the money it was handing out. 

In mid-January of this year, a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit
Court of Appeals, based in Chicago, “reinstated the lawsuit”
brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), the


reported. “The group says Bush’s program,
which helps religious groups get government funding to provide social
services, violates the separation of church and state.” 

While some conservatives are still complaining about the relative
paucity of faith-based funds, the marriage promotion sector recently
received a huge shot in the arm when Bush signed legislation setting
aside $500 million ($100 million per year for 5 years) for faithbased
programs to promote and strengthen heterosexual marriage. The marriage
provision, part of the deficit reduction bill passed by Congress,
“allows faith-based groups that provide social services to
receive federal funding without changing the way they hire,”
Bush pointed out at the White House signing ceremony. 

A few days before the bill signing ceremony, Diane Sollee, the director
of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education, LLC
(CMFCE), sent out an e-mail reminding constituents of its June conference
in Atlanta—the 10th Annual Smart Marriages Conference—where
there will be workshops galore on how different groups can get their
hands on the marriage promotion money. According to Sollee, the
marriage money can be used for:

  • Advertising campaigns on the value of marriage
    and the skills needed to increase marital stability and health. 

  • Education in high schools on the value of marriage, relationship
    skills, and budgeting. 

  • Marriage education, marriage skills, and relationship skills programs
    that may include parenting skills, financial management, conflict
    resolution, and job and career advancement for non-married pregnant
    women and nonmarried expectant fathers. 

  • Pre-marital education and marriage skills training for engaged
    couples and couples or individuals interested in marriage. 

  • Marriage enhancement and marriage skills training programs for
    married couples. 

  • Divorce reduction programs that teach relationship skills. 

  • Marriage mentoring programs which use married couples as role
    models and mentors in at-risk communities. 

  • Programs to reduce the disincentives to marriage in means-tested
    aid programs if offered in conjunction with any activity described
    in this subparagraph. 

After the bill was signed, Horn said “that the money was not
intended to specifically oppose same-sex marriage.” But, Horn
pointed out, “none of the money could be used to promote or
support same-sex marriage in Massachusetts where gay marriage is
legal. The money also could not be used to support gay families
where civil unions or domestic partnerships are allowed.”

Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative movements.