Faith-based initiative gets major push, puts hiring decisions in organizations' hands, and goes international
Critics of President Bush's faith-based initiative painted an apocalyptic picture of Talibanization and funding of religious hatred. "In essence, the government is going to be funding religious discrimination," says Americans United for Separation of Church and State spokesman Joe Conn.

The White House not only denies such scenarios, of course, but says some faith-based organizations are already facing nightmares of their own. The Victory Center Rescue Mission in Iowa was told it would lose $100,000 in federal funds because its board wasn't secular enough, the Associated Press reports. And officials told the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty in New York that it was forbidden from even applying for funds because it has the word Jewish in its name. Religious nonprofits, including soup kitchens and relief organizations, were even denied Federal Emergency Management Agency funds after natural disasters.

Faith-based organizations help the poor—and are usually better at it than organizations that aren't faith-based. So if we really want to help the poor with government funds, why not allow faith-based organizations to use them too? That has always been the basic principle behind Bush's initiative. "The president believes the federal government can remove barriers that prevent faith-based and grassroots groups from doing more to help Americans in need," an unnamed administration official told Reuters.

And since the Senate couldn't even pass a bad version of the bill Bush requested, let alone a good one, Bush has decided to leave Congress to its own devices and expand religious organizations' options through executive orders.

From early press reports, it looks like everything faith-based social service organizations were looking for. The fiat orders federal agencies to treat religious groups as they would any other. Faith-based organizations can't be denied funds even if they have religious titles or display religious images like icons, crosses, or menorahs, but such ministries can't use the federal funds for "inherently religious" activities.

And here's the big one: they also can't be denied funds if they make employment decisions on the basis of religion. That was the issue most responsible for stalling the bill in the Senate. Democrats wanted to mandate that any religious organization receiving funds would have to follow all anti-discrimination laws. Several faith-based organizations said such requirements would undermine their religious identity, and thus undercut the very social service work they were seeking funds for.

Article continues below

Here's another big development in Bush's plan: along with adding a faith-based office to the Department of Agriculture to help religious groups compete for federal grants, he's also creating one in the U.S. Agency for International Development. (Five other Cabinet departments, Justice, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Education, already have such offices.) Taking the faith-based initiative international may have tremendous implications. After all, most of the largest Christian nonprofit organizations are involved in overseas aid work (World Vision, Feed the Children, World Relief, Samaritan's Purse). USAID has worked with such religious organizations, but should smooth out any rough edges.

The disadvantage to Bush's order, of course, is that it's only an executive order. The next president can just as easily revoke it with the stroke of a pen, and any faith-based organizations that have increased their programs as a result of federal funds may find themselves hung out to dry. For that reason alone, some of the organizations may be skittish about seeking the funds. And that's why Bush initially sought to have the initiative installed as law through Congress.

More articles

Christmas and Advent:

Article continues below

Church and state:


Article continues below

Life ethics:

  • Stanford plans stem-cell institute | Center will also focus on related cancer research (San Francisco Chronicle)

  • Also: Stanford may clone human embryos | New Center's Work Could Have Big Impact (The Washington Post)

  • I'll take the womb with a view | Prolife folks have generalized from a specific statement of credentials to suggest that God knows all the people before they are even people; indeed, before they are even fetuses (Jon Carroll, San Francisco Chronicle)

  • Avoiding the issue | Is abortion aborting hope for GOP in California? (Mark Herrick, San Francisco Chronicle)

Sexual ethics:

Clergy sex abuse:

Article continues below

Interfaith relations:

  • Faithful pledge unity within diversity | Observing the 61st anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that ignited war in the Pacific, leaders in the Interreligious and International World Peace Blessing and Rededication Ceremony urged those in attendance to love one another, regardless of superficial differences (The Washington Times)

  • Why hate the 'People of the Book'? | When I told a friend that there was no precedent for cursing Jews and Christians in Friday sermons, he replied that if I counted them as friends, I was one of them (Khaled Batarfi/ Al-Madinah, Arab News, Saudi Arabia)

  • Christian fundamentalists and American hegemony | Though a few Arab writers have written about the dangerous course taken by religious fundamentalists in the U.S., serious efforts have yet to be made to warn the Muslim and Arab public about the increasing influence of the anti-Muslim religious fundamentalist lobby in the United States (Abdul Qader Tash, Arab News, Saudi Arabia)

  • Pastor exposes congregation to leaders of different faiths | To promote religious diversity and some blending of religions into his church, Rednower has been inviting religious leaders of different denominations to speak to his Baptist congregation (The Flint [Mich.] Journal)

  • Not all theologies earn equal respect | Tony Blair and Cherie could be up to worse things than crystals, primal screaming and Feng Shui; they could be militant Christians who anticipate the end of the world and therefore see no point in preserving our material well being into the future. (Malachi O'Doherty, The Belfast Telegraph)

  • Religious tolerance prevails | Most local groups accept diverse beliefs, symbols (News-Press, Fort Myers, Fla.)

  • Mormons agree, again, to end posthumous baptisms of Jews | Agreement was apparently breached since it was made with Jewish leaders seven years ago (Associated Press)

  • Earlier: Mormons meet with Jewish group in New York over baptizing holocaust victims | Mormon and Jewish leaders met to discuss the Mormon church's apparent breach of its agreement not to posthumously baptize Holocaust victims and other deceased Jews (Associated Press)

  • Also: Baptism meeting 'productive' (The Salt Lake Tribune)

What Would Jesus Drive? campaign:

  • No apologies due for SUVs | Would Jesus rather spend $65,000 to campaign against energy consumption or spend that money to feed the hungry or help the sick? (Jerry Taylor, The Washington Times)

Article continues below
  • Stopping traffic | What would Jesus drive? (Katherine Ellison, Christian Century)


Related Elsewhere

Suggest links and stories by sending e-mail to

What is Weblog?

See our past Weblog updates:

December 11 | 10 | 9
December 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2
November 27 | 26 | 25
November 22 | 21 | 20 | 19 | 18
November 15 | 14 | 13 | 12 | 11
November 8 | 7 | 6 | 5 | 4
November 1 | October 31 | 30 | 29 | 28
October 25 | 24 | 23 | 22 | 21
October 18 | 17 | 16 | 15 | 14