Since opening shop in February 2001, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives has led a controversial effort to bulldoze barriers that discouraged faith-based organizations from pursuing government grants and contracts to provide social services. In the past, many groups have feared they would have to remove the "faith" from "faith-based" because of government strings attached to public funds.
That landscape has now begun to change. Thanks in part to a series of executive orders by President Bush (as well as new religious freedom protections under Charitable Choice provisions first enacted in 1996), thousands of faith-based groups—including robustly religious ones—have now received millions of dollars to provide job training, housing, mentoring, and other important social services in their communities. More importantly, they have found that the government is using new and more respectful rules and guidelines that address many, if not yet all of their concerns.
A new book by three professors of political science, Faith-Based Initiatives and the Bush Administration: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, promises to tell an accurate, behind-the-scenes account of some of these profound changes. But their rendition of this remarkable story is a mixed bag, and at times it is misleading.
The book paints a fairly negative picture of the policies behind the initiative, while acknowledging some redeeming features. In a chapter on legal background, Paul Weber argues—contrary to many constitutional scholars—that the initiative likely violates the separation of church and state. His verdict, however, is based on an incorrect understanding of the initiative's basic intent.
To argue that it is unconstitutional, Weber cites ...1