When he took office in January of 2001, President George W. Bush’s first domestic-policy proposal was the “faith-based” initiative. He apparently intends to stick with it until the end of his presidency.
Bush has been promoting the initiative anew in recent months. In February, the White House issued a 110-page report called “The Quiet Revolution – The President’s Faith-Based and Community Initiative: A Seven-Year Progress Report,” crowing about the alleged successes of the initiative.
Meeting with the nation’s governors Feb. 25, Bush distributed copies of the report and urged the state executives to join him in promoting a larger role for religious groups in providing social services.
“There’s 35 faith-based offices set up in different states,” Bush said. “And for those of you who’ve got them, I thank you. We want to help you, want to coordinate. If you don’t have one, I strongly urge you to take a look at what other governors have done.”
Bush bragged about specific projects the federal faith-based office supports, singling out a program aimed at helping prisoners re-enter society and others that assist persons addicted to drugs or alcohol.
“But the whole purpose is to focus on results,” he said. “You know, we ought to be asking what works – not the process.”
Critics of the faith-based initiative said this was an odd criterion for Bush to embrace because to date, no study has shown that the faith-based approach works better than any other.
John DiIulio, the first director of Bush’s faith-based office, admitted as much recently. In an interview with Christianity Today, DiIulio was asked if there is evidence that religious providers of social services are more effective than secular providers.
He replied, “There is no empirical evidence [showing] that programs that promote spiritual transformation are more likely to succeed.”
Americans United criticized the new Bush push. The organization noted that Congress has refused to pass the faith-based initiative and that most people tell pollsters they have qualms about the concept, especially the idea of allowing religious groups to take public funds and discriminate on religious grounds when hiring staff.
“Bush’s faith-based initiative has been a colossal failure,” AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn said. “It undercut civil rights laws and jeopardized important religious liberty safeguards. I don’t believe Congress is going to adopt it at this late date in the administration’s tenure.”
Continued Lynn, “Bush has never been interested in a level playing field for faith-based groups, as he often claimed. He has been interested in tilting the field toward favored religious organizations that want to discriminate with government funds. It was no accident that TV preacher Pat Robertson, an ardent Bush supporter, got one of the first faith-based grants.”