State of the Union: Faith-Based Initiative

Faith-Based Initiative

In his State of the Union address, President Bush renewed efforts to steer federal money to religious entities that provide social services. But, instead of making an earnest effort to strengthen the important relationship that currently exists between the federal government and religious charities, President Bush continues to press for policies that divide, rather than unify, Americans.

  • Instead of supporting and encouraging existing partnerships between the federal government and religious charities, President Bush wants to turn his problematic faith-based initiative into federal law. Bush’s December 12, 2002 executive order – coupled with existing charitable choice legislation – gives religious entities greater access to federal funds and raises troubling questions. Though the executive order prohibits organizations receiving federal funds from using such funds for "inherently religious activities," legal scholars believe the standard is an "ambiguous" and "overly narrow expression of the Constitution’s limitations."
  • Religious organizations may compete for government funding while displaying religious icons and may discriminate on the basis of religious faith while hiring workers and selecting board members. These provisions raise so many concerns that Congress was unable to pass faith-based legislation last year. Legislators are uncomfortable with the prospect of religious organizations discriminating while using federal dollars and using federal dollars while displaying religious art and icons.

President Bush should encourage, and strengthen the relationship that already exists between religious charities and the federal government. For decades, religious charities – with the assistance of the federal government – have played an important role in America’s neediest communities. Organizations like Catholic Charities USA and Lutheran Social Services are providing HIV/AIDS education, mortgage counseling, health care for uninsured children, assistance to immigrants and other important services. If President Bush wants to create an atmosphere that encourages the work of religious social services providers, he should join with a diverse group of religious leaders and legislators to craft policies that promote these long-standing relationships.

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