Last Monday we took note of three recent commentaries on the role of religion in public life, a subject of ongoing debate. Right now, ground zero is the recently established White House Office for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, headed by John DiIulio. Last Tuesday in Washington, DiIulio spoke at a media luncheon sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center and moderated by Michael Cromartie.

Fat, rumpled, plainspoken, funny, and seemingly possessing total recall of hundreds of public policy studies, DiIulio is an immensely refreshing presence. On his right was Herb Lusk, the pastor of Philadelphia's Greater Exodus Baptist Church; on his left, Luis Cortes of Nueva Esperanza, also from Philadelphia. The two men represent the sort of faith-based community services DiIulio hopes to encourage.

Since World War II, DiIulio reminded us, hardly a single major domestic program has been directly administered by the U.S. government. What we have instead is "government by proxy," whereby federal funds are disbursed to various non-governmental organizations. So, for example, Medicare is mostly administered by non-governmental intermediaries. So too, DiIulio said, in countless other instances, citing as a less familiar example some 135 programs for at-risk youth. The point he was making, with clarity and force, is that far from entailing a risky departure from standard operating procedures, the Office for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives is right in the mainstream.

Nevertheless, in the Q&A session that followed (cut short, alas, because DiIulio had to leave for an appointment with the president), many of the media queries proceeded as if DiIulio had said nothing, as if the most obvious church-and-state issues hadn't already ...

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