Bush Pushes Religion in Government


religious right is making inroads in governme

at a record pace. While government partnership with religious groups
has a long history in the U.S., the process accelerated in the 1970s
and 1980s when neo-cons became alarmed about a “social and
moral crisis” and pledged to strengthen families and neighborhoods.
Neo-cons claim that social problems lie beyond the scope of government
and can be addressed more properly by faith-based groups, which
will also lead to a reduction in government spending. 

1996 welfare reform package adopted some of the neo-cons’ concerns
by enlisting greater participation of religious groups in government-funded
social services. In 1999, Al Gore went farther, with campaign promises
to make faith-based programs an “integral” part of his
Administration, if elected. Nine days after his inauguration in
2001, President Bush released executive orders creating the White
House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI) and
established faith-based centers in five federal agencies. The plan
immediately ran into difficulties. 

head of the OFBCI, John DiIulio Jr., a professor at the University
of Pennsylvania, resigned in August 2001. He told


magazine, “There is no precedent in any modern White House
for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus.
What you’ve got is everything, and I mean everything, being
run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.”

Machiavellis” was DiIulio’s term for the political staff,
particularly Karl Rove, whom he describes as “the single most
powerful person in the modern, post-Hoover era ever to occupy a
political-adviser post near the Oval Office.” 

Congress refused to pass additional faith-based initiatives in December
2002, Bush issued a set of executives orders to increase funding,
weaken traditional barriers between government and religious activities,
and build a huge network of religious groups across the country.
Since then, federal agencies finalized new regulations, including
providing legal, logistical, and technical assistance to religious
groups seeking grants. The Bush administration sponsored 13 regional
conferences and additional meetings across the country to lobby
religious organizations to apply for $50 billion in federal grants.
Such organizing produced an email list of 13,000 faith-based groups,
which would prove useful during the 2004 election. 

2002, faith-based officials appeared at Republican-sponsored events
in six states. They held an event in South Carolina for 300 Black
ministers and OFBCI director Jim Towey made a 20-city tour, promoting
the faith-based initiative. 

the 2004 campaign, the

New York Times

reported that the Bush-Cheney
campaign conducted “a brisk schedule for legions of Christian
supporters,” asking “conservative churches and churchgoers
to do everything they can to turn their churches into bases of support”
for Bush’s election. 

Bush visited the Vatican in June, he called on Catholic officials
to push U.S. bishops to speak out on political issues that would
support him in the election. A group of a dozen religious conservative
lobbying groups are rallying support for changing the law to allow
churches to campaign for political candidates. Rep. Walter B. Jones
Jr. (R-NC) introduced the Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection
Act, co-sponsored by 108 Republicans, including Tom DeLay and Dick
Armey (both of Texas), and 4 Democrats. 

August the Rockefeller Institute of Government and the Pew Charitable
Trust shed light on Bush’s activities with the report, “The
Expanding Administrative Presidency: George W. Bush and the Faith-Based
Initiative,” detailing inroads made by religion into government.
The report concluded that Bush “weakened longstanding walls
banning religious groups from mixing spiritual activities with their
secular services” that “mark a major shift in the constitutional
separation of church and state.” 

most disturbing of these findings detailed how federally- funded
religious groups are now allowed to: consider religion when hiring
staff; convert government-forfeited property to religious purposes;
use government funds to build and renovate structures used for both
religious and social services; provide religious training for those
with job-training vouchers who seek church jobs; and religious groups
no longer need to certify that their programs exert “no religious
influence.” After these changes in 2003, the Departments of
Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development reported
that faith-based organizations increased their grants by 41 percent.
Five federal agencies granted $1.17 billion to faith-based groups. 


Congress refused to pass his proposals to lower the long-standing
barriers against spreading the gospel in publicly funded social
services programs, Bush used administrative rules to established
faith-based offices in ten federal agencies, including the Department
of Agriculture, the Agency for International Development, and the
Department of Commerce. He increased funding for religious-sponsored
programs and connected a vast network of religious groups. 

changes allow churches to discriminate based on religious beliefs
and to use federal funds to renovate and build places of worship
and to proselytize. In practical terms, religion is creeping into
social services as never before.

considered a cult, Rev. Sun Myung Moon and his Unification Church
receive government grants to teach “healthy marriage”
programs. Josephine Hauer, a Unification leader, works for the Department
of Health and Human Services (HHS) and told a seminar of religious
leaders in Oakland, California, “I want to make this a marriage
culture.” The seminar was sponsored by a $366,179 grant from

Panzer, another Unification leader, runs Free Teens USA, which received
a $475,000 grant for after-school abstinence programs in New Jersey.
David Capprara, former president of a group funded by Moon’s
Washington Times Foundation, currently runs the U.S. Corporation
for National and Community Service, which oversees groups such as
AmeriCorps Vista. 

he criticized the Faith-Based Initiative as “a Pandora’s
box,” Pat Robertson, found- er of the right-wing Christian
Coalition, received a $500,000 HHS grant for Operation Blessing,
to support international food relief. Overall, funds to religious
groups from the HHS increased 41 percent—from 483 to 680 programs—
in 2003. Florida even has a faith-based prison—the first in
the nation. 

to Wilfred McClay, professor of history and humanities at the University
of Tennessee, these are “a dramatic change” from past
practices, although allowing religious organizations to compete
for social welfare service funds is a continuation of Clinton’s
welfare reform. McClay predicts that there will be “lots of
rhetoric,” but not much legislative or executive action on
the issue in the coming years. 

Barry, policy director for the Interhemispheric Resource Center,
traces religious involvement in government from Ronald Reagan, who
based U.S. foreign policy on moral clarity combined with military
might. Since then, a number of think tanks along with conservative
and neo-conservative groups began framing foreign policy in moral
terms. “These groups want to spread Judeo-Christian values
around the world,” says Barry. “They support a national
security policy based on preventive war to spread U.S. ethical and
moral values as superior to other values.” 

contributed to the so-called cultural war by rejecting the separation
of church and state “in favor of rhetorical and policy initiatives
that brought religion not only into the public sphere but also directly
into government,” says Barry. Right-wing policy groups are
infiltrating the UN, which the Christian right formerly criticized
as secular, in order to reshape the agenda. Groups such as the Family
Research Council and the American Life League seek UN status to
oppose abortion, restrict women’s rights to birth control,
and promote “traditional values.” 

there is opposition to integrating government and religion within
the religious community, Mark Silk, director of the Leonard E. Greenberg
Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College,
finds that Bush relies on an activist base of Republicans composed
primarily of white faith- based evangelicals. 

religious leaders opposed government funding of religious groups
primarily because of anti-Catholicism. “There was no way conservative
Protestants wanted to underwrite a Catholic parochial education,”
says Silk. “But after Protestants est- ablished their own schools
to avoid integration, they changed.” 

religious belief helps people overcome social problems remains to
be seen, but Silk points out that many religious groups, such as
Catholic Charities, made a success at becoming good secular social
service providers. The friction begins when they proselytize and
become political. “It’s tough when issues become identified
in religious communities as matters of faith rather than public
issues that need compromise,” Silk says. “There’s
always a concern when religion creates an unbridgeable divide.”

Don Monkerud
is an Aptos, California- based writer covering politics.