Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, told attendees at a recent conference that there is a "culture war" under way pitting believers against those who want a "godless orthodoxy."
Speaking at the "First White House National Conference on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives" in Washington, D.C., June 1, Towey blasted critics who oppose the faith-based initiative on church-state grounds.
"It\'s true that much attention is being placed on the war in Iraq, but there\'s another war that\'s going on," Towey said. "It\'s a culture war that really gets to the heart of the questions about what is the role of faith in the public square."
Towey said the failure of government to acknowledge the role of religion is an effort at "creating a godless orthodoxy."
Towey singled out Americans United by name, criticizing the organization for opposing a government grant to the Salvation Army in Janesville, Wisc. AU said the funding was improper because Army officials vowed to include religious content in the program. Towey called AU supporters "radical fundamentalist secularists."
AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn quickly fired back, telling the Los Angeles Times, "Towey\'s right, there is a culture war in America. But his army is battling for discriminatory hiring and government-funded religion, and my army is fighting for voluntary aid to the poor in churches and in secular groups, and an end to bigotry."
President George W. Bush also spoke at the event, which drew some 2,000 religious leaders and social service providers. During his remarks, Bush noted that Congress refused to pass his "faith-based" plan but then insisted that he has implemented much of it anyway through executive orders.
Arguing that faith-based programs "do a better job than government can do," Bush said, "We welcome the army of compassion. We understand the power of faith in America, and the federal government will assist not discriminate against you."
Some critics say Bush and Towey have also been working to politicize the faith-based initiative. Bush strategists hope the effort will enable the president to win enough African-American and Hispanic votes to make a difference in swing states. Meanwhile, Towey has been arguing that if U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry is elected in November, the initiative will be forgotten.
"I would expect that Sen. Kerry, if he was elected, would stick the faith-based initiative in the Smithsonian," Towey told the evangelical magazine World.
Attorneys at Americans United are looking for a good test case to challenge the faith-based initiative in court. AU members are asked to send any useful information to the national office in Washington.
Things to look for include: religious discrimination in employment in taxpayer-funded programs; religious discrimination against those in need in taxpayer-funded programs; diversion of tax dollars for religious purposes; tax funds used to pay for religious worship and activities; religious coercion of beneficiaries in taxpayer-funded programs; taxpayer-funded social service programs that are available only to religious providers and taxpayer funding of buildings in which religious activities take place.
Send material such as this to AU via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also call (202) 466-3234 or mail it to: Americans United Legal Department, 518 C St., N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002.