TheocracyWatch Logo


The Rise of the Religious Right in the Republican Party

What's New?  
SEARCH TheocracyWatch

Faith-Based Initiative

"We want to fund programs that save Americans
one soul at a time."
President George W. Bush, January, 2004, in a speech in New Orleans

In this section:

Transformation from Secular to Religious Government
    Faith-Based Politics
    Faith-Based Bias
    Faith-Based Fiat
    Faith-Based Foray
    Faith-Based Victory
    Faith-Based Failure
    'Faith-Based' Orders
    Faith-Based Sex-Education
    Faith-Based Lock Up
    Faith-Based Parks
    Faith-Based Coercion
Compassionate Conservatism
The Civil Rights Act, 1964
Political Manipulation
more links


Transformation from Secular to Religious Government

Under the Bush administration, our country is experiencing a major transformation from a secular to a religious government. The President's faith-based initiative is central to this transformation and raises serious questions about church-state separation. "Slouching toward theocracy. President Bush's faith-based initiative is doing better than you think," by Bill Berkowitz, 2/6/04 provides an overview of this transformation.

In his State of the Union address, Bush renewed a call for Congress to make permanent his faith-based proposals that would allow religious organizations to compete for more government contracts and grants without a strict separation between their religious activities and social service programs.

On February 4, 2004, the U.S. House of Representatives voted for provisions in a social services bill that allow religiously based job discrimination in publicly funded programs run by churches.

How Much Money?

How much are taxpayers paying for what Barry Lynn, Executive Director of American's United calls "federally subsidized employment discrimination?" According to Daniel Zwerdling who produced two programs on faith-based initiative for Bill Moyers TV show NOW in September, 2003, "administration spokesmen say they can't break down how much money has gone so far to religious groups .. they claim they don't keep that information."

The March, 2004, issue of Church and State reports that the "Faith Czar" Jim Towey announced to reporters that $40 billion dollars was now available to religious charities.

By studying White House press releases and the White House web site, Daniel Zwerdling found that religious groups could apply to more than a hundred federal programs that gave out more than $65 billion. In addition, religious groups ccould apply for more money through state-administered programs.

From the Washington Post, January 4, 2005:

.. in 2003, groups dubbed "faith-based" received $1.17 billion in grants from federal agencies, according to documents provided by the White House to the Associated Press.

That's not enough, said H. James Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. An additional $40 billion in federal money is given out by state governments, he said..

This is the text of an executive order signed by Bush on June 1.

On September 22, 2003, the White House announced new rules making $28 billion available to religious charities that proselytize and discriminate in hiring. Susan Jacoby, director of the Center for Inquiry in Metro New York claims "The White House has taken what may be its boldest step yet to blur the constitutional separation of church and state." While the White House announced these controversial new rules, the media hardly paid attention.

While religious charities receive billions of dollars, federal programs are experiencing funding cuts. The largest federally funded after-school program, the $1 billion-a-year 21st Century Community Learning Centers program is threatened with a budget reduction of $400 million for the Fiscal Year 2004. The resulting cuts in Washington D.C. alone could eliminate after-school services for 2,902 District children.

As reported in the Washington Post, Congress has ordered more than $3 million in grants since 2001 earmarked for respected former Redskins cornerback Darrell Green's Youth Life Foundation, with the goal in part of opening more Green learning centers here and in other cities. But his center is directly serving only 38 kids, in a city where 35,000 live in poverty.

From Church and State editorial, March 9, 2004:

The Corporation for National and Community Service has allocated $324,000 in Americorps funding for staffing at four daycare centers run by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence.

But The Children's Crusade, a mentoring program that has won national honors, lost all its budget of half a million dollars. The group had hoped to partner 35 young adults with poor minority children. That won't be happening now.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has been following Bush's Faith-Based Initiative since he assumed the office of President. They have filed lawsuits, and their magazine, Church and State, has many important, in-depth articles.

From Americans United, August 17, 2004:

A new study of the "faith-based" initiative raises troubling questions about the Bush administration's disregard for constitutional and civil rights protections, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The report issued today by the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy lists the many executive actions President George W. Bush has taken to fund a wide range of religion-based social services. The sweeping changes in federal policy, the report indicates, have come without congressional authorization.

Philadelphia Church That Endorsed Bush Gets $1 Million 'Faith-Based' Grant
Wednesday June 23, 2004

"The Rev. Lusk endorsed candidate Bush, and wound up getting a $1-million faith-based grant from the Bush administration," [Barry] Lynn said. "Now there's a heavenly payoff."

"Faith-Based Fiat," January, 2003, Church and State:

"On Dec. 12, speaking to over 1,000 religious and charitable leaders gathered at the Downtown Marriott Hotel in Philadelphia, George W. Bush launched another major offensive in his drive to implement his controversial "faith-based" initiative. Circumventing a reluctant Congress, which has refused to enact the administration's scheme, Bush announced a sweeping package of executive actions to encourage churches and other religious groups to apply for billions in government contracts to help the disadvantaged."

"Faith-Based Foray," From Church and State, October, 2002,

"Not willing to let a skeptical Congress delay its plan for government-funded religion, the Bush administration is moving ahead with the faith-based initiative anyway."

"Faith-Based Victory," Church and State, May, 2003, brings good news! A powerful coalition formed in the U.S. Senate to derail President Bush and U.S. Senator Rick Santorum's efforts to pass legislation making it legal to discriminate in employment. As a result, the final legislation is nothing like the Bush/Santorum plan. This 'good news' article affirms the power of coalition building in the Senate.

"Faith-Based Failure," Church and State, November, 2002, highlights a report documenting major problems with the Faith Based program that has been implemented in Texas for the past five year

"The Bush 'Faith-Based' Orders: Dangerous Decrees, Church and State. On Dec. 12, 2002, President George W. Bush issued two executive orders putting into place his controversial "faith-based" initiative, February, 2003. (So far, I haven't been able to find this article on AU's newly reformatted web site -jb) more

Faith-Based Sex-Education

Sierra magazine, January-February, 2004, has a feature article on abstinence-only education in the public schools. Federally funded programs are based on fear and end up proselytizing. A Louisianna state judge has ruled that the proselytizing must stop or the programs risk defunding.

"For Louisianna seventh graders, abstinence-only education appears first and foremost to be about terrifying diseases: suppurating boils, endless rashes, sterility, cancers, and the physical and psychic morbidity with which they are to be punished for having sex before marriage."

"Hundreds of federally funded abstinence-only programs are run by faith-based groups. The Louisianna American Civil Liberties Union found that ... thousands of dollars went to programs that included prayers as well as continuous referrences to God, Jesus Christ, and the spiritual repercussions of sex before marriage."

Faith Base Lock Up

In Lawtey, Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush dedicated what is being called the nation's first religion-based prison.

A North Florida prison will be converted into the nation's first faith-based lockup. Critics say public money shouldn't be spent on religious programs.

"This is a clearly unconstitutional scheme," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "A state can no more create a faith-based prison than it could set up faith-based public schools or faith-based police departments."

Americans United filed a lawsuit to block a similar state-sponsored fundamentalist Christian project operating with public funds at a prison in Iowa. That case, which challenges state support of Charles Colson's InnerChange program, is pending in federal court.

How the the InnerChange Prison Fellowship program cooked the books so that the program's failure looks like a success. To read about Americans United current litigation, click here.

Faith-Based Parks

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a non-profit group that represents park workers and public employees, charged in a release last week that the National Park Service is hell-bent on removing images of anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, pro-choice marches and gay rights marches from an eight-minute video tape located at the Lincoln Memorial covering historic gatherings that have taken place there and on the Washington Mall.

"The park service leadership now caters exclusively to conservative Christian fundamentalist groups," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch in his group's release. "The Bush Administration appears to be sponsoring a program of Faith-Based Parks."

"... morality conservative groups have a special entree with decision makers at the Park Service and the White House."

The federal government lost a lawsuit when a federal court ruled that a program crossed the line between church and state. From the Washington Post July 6, 2004: "America Corps Loses Suit on Religion:"

The federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps must stop financing programs that place volunteers in Catholic schools, a judge has ruled, saying it unconstitutionally crosses the line between church and state.

Faith-Based Coercion

Increasingly--and more often than not, with the explicit cheerleading and support of dominionist groups--there is an emphasis for reliance on "faith based" initiatives, such as "faith based" rehab programs, "faith based" disaster aid charities, etc. Unfortunately, this is often turning into a chance for faith-based coercion--often on what is, quite literally, a captive audience. more

Compassionate Conservatism

Marvin Olasky, a Reconstructionist influenced professor of Journalism, has served as a close advisor to Bush. Olasky's book, Compassionate Conservatism, creates a justification for Bush's policies on faith based giving. Bush wrote the forward to the book published in 2000. Olasky is a compelling writer who shares his philosophical ideas through heart-wrenching and inspiring human interest stories. He makes a strong case for faith based giving. Evangelical Christian charities succeed, according to Olasky, where government fails. Olasky sees no problem with government funds going to missions that proselytize. The fact that someone who is hungry and vulnerable might have to undergo a religious conversion to get food and shelter doesn't bother him.

The Problem with Proselytizing

Bill Moyers program, NOW, (the first of a two-part series) aired on PBS September 26, 2003, makes clear the problem with proselytizing. The TV show focuses on one program that trains church volunteers to help lift people out of poverty. At first, the whole concept looked truly wonderful. A volunteer family infuses a young, struggling mother of three with love and a sense of caring -- which is very moving.

Then the pressure begins to join their church. This "loving" family is all the support this young mother has in the world, and she feels deeply conflicted about joining their church. When she was asked by the interviewer about joining the church, her face froze in what looked like silent terror. She hadn't wanted to join, but appeared to be terrified of losing the love and support of her sponsoring family. The sponsoring family told the interviewer that they're taught not to invite the family to their church for the first month, and that they never told the woman that she had to join. But it's clear that the invitations to go to church would not let up.

That look of frozen terror on the young woman's face illustrated dramatically the dangers of government funding for church sponsored charities. Millions of young, vulnerable mothers and struggling families will feel coerced to join the "correct" evangelical churches.

The Civil Rights Act, 1964

The Civil Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, poses a problem to faith base charities receiving tax-payer dollars, for it bans discrimination in employment on the basis of race, gender, or religion. But religious charities receiving faith based dollars don't want to be forced to hire people of other religions, and especially don't want to hire gays or lesbians. The President doesn't let the Civil Rights Act deter him from giving money to charities that discriminate in hiring.

The Washington Post reported back in July, 2001, that the Bush administration made a deal with the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army would spend upwards of $110,000 per month to lobby for Bush's faith Based Initiative, and the White House would give the Salvation Army a "firm commitment" allowing greater freedom in discrimination against gays in employment. The New York Times reports, 2/5/04, that the New York City Salvation Army is requiring employees to fill out forms stating their religion, among other things.

Senator Rick Santorum vowed to actually rewrite the anti-discrimination laws. There's a difference between executivte orders and changing the law. Executive orders can be changed by the next president, but laws are lasting.

Senator Santorum and President Bush have been trying to change anti-discrimination laws through Congress for religious charities, but they failed, and this is an important and little known success story. After haggling with the Senate for two years, the CARE Act was finally passed. It allows taxpayers who do not itemize tax deductions to write off a portion of their charitable donations for two years. It is vastly different from the Bush/Santorum plan.

The Bush/Santorum plan was stopped by effective organizing. Americans United for Separation of Church and State helped form the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination or (CARD). This coalition brought together fifty two religious, public policy and educational organizations. Members include the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Interfaith Alliance, the NAACP, American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, the National Education Association, The National Association of Social Workers, The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Baptist Churches and the Rabbinical Assembly. For a full list of the 52 organizations, go to The CARD coalition is a good example of effective grassroots organizing.

An article by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman (12/17/02), discusses a move by the Bush administration to enable agencies that receive government funding to discriminate.

Political Manipulation

Another problem with Bush's program is the potential for political manipulation. The Republican Party campaigned to bring traditionally Democratic constituencies into its fold in the 2002 elections. U.S. Rep. Anne M. Northup (R-Ky.) created a non-profit organization to steer federal money to religious groups in order to boost her political strength in the African-American community.

From Church and State, "Preaching The GOP Gospel, Using His 'Faith-Based' Initiative To Try To Win Converts In The African-American Community, Bush Seeks To Make His Calling And Election Sure," Sept., 2003:

Rep. Northup was never popular in the black community before. Now her non-profit, Louisville Neighborhood Initiative Inc., (LNI) doles out federal money to poor, mostly minority neighborhoods. "I can't paint a clearer picture," said the Rev. C. Mackey Daniels, pastor of West Chestnut Baptist Church. "The support was given in order to get votes." U.S. Rep. Robert Ehrlich in his bid for governor of Maryland promised to use money from Bush's faith-based initiative to build support in African-American churches.

Justice Sunday III' Pastor Has Received $1 Million In 'Faith-Based' Funds, Americans United, January 4, 2005:

Pastor Herb Lusk, the Philadelphia preacher hosting the Religious Right-led "Justice Sunday III" rally this weekend, has a long history of partisan activity on behalf of Republicans and has been awarded more than $1 million in "faith-based" grants by the Bush administration ...

More Links

As reported in the New York Times , January 23, 2003, another Bush assault on the 'wall' of separation of church and State is a shift in policy that, for the first time allows the federal government to give money to houses of worship to build buildings. Church and State, January 29, 2003: "Teen Challenge, Louisiana Church Program Proselytize Clients On Behalf Of Evangelical Christianity:" (So far, I haven't been able to find this AU Press Release on their newly reformatted web site -jb) more

"There are plenty of reasons for religious groups in America to run, screaming, from the notion of faith-based initiatives. A university theologian explains why." James Dunnmore

From The Associated Press, January 14, 2006:

A group can sue the federal government over claims that President Bush's faith-based initiative is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, a federal appeals court ruled.


Next Page
Last updated: April-2006