New Report on the Bush Administration's Faith-based Agenda

A new report entitled The Expanding Administrative Presidency: George W. Bush and the Faith-Based Initiative was issued in mid-August by The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy, a project of the Rockefeller Institute of Government. The report describes the administration's increase in funding for a wide range of religious-based social services. Many aspects of Bush's initiative were implemented by executive order, the report points out, without congressional authorization. The report discusses this initiative and the resulting possible conflicts with the separation of church and state in this country.

This report is the first in-depth examination of how the administration has implemented its faith-based initiative. Richard P. Nathan, director of the Rockefeller Institute of Government said, "The Bush administration has been both hard-charging in its implementation of the Faith-based Initiative, and under the radar. There are famous past examples of Presidents who used their executive powers to cut through bureaucracy and advance a particular policy. Few if any presidents in recent history have reached as deeply into, or as broadly across the government to implement a Presidential initiative administratively."1

Faith-Based Initiative

Bush first unveiled his faith-based initiative shortly after taking office, but it was delayed in Congress because of constitutional and civil rights concerns. According to the report, "in the absence of new legislative authority, the President has used executive orders, rule changes, managerial realignment in federal agencies, and other prerogatives of his office to aggressively implement the Initiative."2 The report looks at the actions the Bush administration has undertaken to increase government partnerships with faith-based groups. It states "Religious organizations are now involved in government-encouraged activities ranging from building strip malls for economic improvement to promoting child car seats to distributing Medicare prescription cards."3

One of the ways that the President has advanced his faith-based initiative is to create a high-profile special office in the White House that works specifically on this issue. The White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives was created only nine days after his inauguration. The Office is connected to mini-offices in ten government agencies. Each of these agencies, with the help of the White House Office, have proposed or finalized new regulations that "together mark a major shift in the constitutional separation of church and state."4

For example, federally funded faith-based groups can now consider religion when employing staff and religious institutions can now use government money to build and renovate places of worship. Other changes include that the Veteran's Administration no longer requires that faith-based social service providers certify they exert "no religious influence."5 Many government agencies have also created resources and provided assistance specifically for faith-based agencies to encourage their participation.

Impact on Sexuality Education

The report highlights sexuality education as one area where an increasing partnership between our government and faith-based groups has been evident. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has actively promoted the involvement of faith-based groups in abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. For example, the Office of Abstinence and Pregnancy Prevention encouraged faith-based programs to apply for a share of the Adolescent Family Life Demonstration Projects funding totaling $350 million. These projects are intended to teach "that sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects."6 In fact in FY 2003, more faith-based groups than secular groups received funding for such programs, the first such record.7

Overall Impact

The full extent of these changes is still uncertain, but in May 2004 the White House released an incomplete tally of grants to faith-based and community organizations grants at the departments of HHS, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Justice, and Education. According to the report, "Of the total $14.4 billion awarded in 140 federal non-formula competitive grants, 8 percent - or $1.17 billion - went to faith-based organizations."8 The White House reported the number of HHS grants to faith-based organizations rose 41 percent in FY 2003 and the number of first-time grants to faith-based groups rose 50 percent.9

President Bush has widely extolled the virtues of faith-based programs. Speaking to a group of religious leaders in Philadelphia in December 2002, he said, "The days of discrimination against religious groups just because they are religious are coming to an end… We've reformed welfare in America to help many, yet welfare policy will not solve the deepest problems of the spirit… No government policy can put hope in people's hearts or a sense of purpose in people's lives. That is done when someone, some good soul puts an arm around a neighbor and says, 'God loves you, and I love you, and you can count on us both.'"10

Many advocates question whether these efforts are blurring the line of separation between church and state. Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said, "The report shows an administration obsessed with seeking faith-based solutions for almost everything… I am deeply troubled that vital constitutional and civil rights protections are being shoved aside as the faith-based crusade advances."11

More information or to view the report.

References

  1. "New Report: Extensive Use of Executive Power Has Advanced Bush's Faith-based Initiative Despite Lack of Legislation," Press Release, (Albany, NY: The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy, August 16, 2004),
  2. The Expanding Administrative Presidency: George W. Bush and the Faith-Based Initiative, (Albany, NY: The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy, August 2004), Executive Summary.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid, p. 11.
  6. http://www.nonewmoney.org, Accessed on September 17, 2004.
  7. The Expanding Administrative Presidency: George W. Bush and the Faith-Based Initiative, p. 23.
  8. Ibid, p. 18.
  9. Ibid, p. 22.
  10. Ibid, p. 5.
  11. "Bush 'Faith-Based' Agenda Spreading in Federal Government, Report Finds: Initiative Ignores Constitutional Principles and Civil Rights Protections, Says Americans United," Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Press Release, August 17, 2004.

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