Federal Bureacracy Funnels Billions to Faith

The first major study of the implementation of Pres. Bush’s faith-based initiative,” released by the Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany, N.Y., in August, reveals a huge bureacracy has been created to implement it, and signals “a major shift in the constitutional separation of church and state.”

The nonpartisan Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy pointed out:

“Religious organizations are now involved in government-encouraged activities ranging from building strip malls for economic improvements to promoting child car seats to distributing Medicare prescription cards.”

The report found that without legislative authority, “the president has aggressively advanced the faith-based initiative” through executive orders and rule changes.

The “high-profile special office in the White House” is connected to “mini-offices in ten government agencies,” and “myriad other government offices.”

The report mentions, without name, the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s July filing of a broad federal lawsuit challenging the White House faith-based office, eight Cabinet-level offices, federally-sponsored conferences showing preference to faith-based groups, as well as funding.

Major regulatory changes include:

Allowing federally-funded religious groups to discriminate on the basis of religion in employment. Permitting religious groups to convert government-forfeited property to religious purposes after five years, previously prohibited (Department of Justice change). Allowing federally-funded religious groups to build and renovate structures used for both religious worship and social services. No longer requiring religious social service providers to certify they exert “no religious influence” (Veterans Administration). Allowing students to use federal job-training vouchers to receive religious training to work at a church or other religious group (Department of Labor).

“Some uncertainty remains as to the full extent of federal funding for faith-based social services,” the report explains. “The substantial majority of federal support for such purposes is in contracts or grants awarded by state and local governments rather than in Washington, and few public programs record whether or not contractors are faith-based.”

The White House estimates faith-based funding grants increased 41% by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and 16% by Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in fiscal year 2003. The Administration claims five federal agencies provided grants of $1.17 billion that year, or 8% of the $14.5 billion awarded.

“The Bush Administration has sought to remove barriers to participation by faith-based organizations, but in so doing, may also have weakened longstanding walls preventing religious groups from inserting spiritual activities into secular services,” says the report.

While other presidents have created White House offices or initiatives, they note, “The innovation in the Bush faith-based initiative is the creation of a high-profile special office in the White House, connected to mini-offices in ten government agencies, each with a carefully selected director and staff, and empowered to articulate, advance and oversee coordinated efforts to win more financial support for faith-based groups. . .”

The report traces the start of faith-based funding with the overhaul of the welfare reform act of 1996. Then-U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft included a provision that government would no longer exclude religious groups from receiving federal grants because of their religious character, and would be permitted to retain their religious missions, symbols and literature. Previously, religious groups awarded public funding were required to form a separate, secular, nonprofit organization in order to receive public funds.

Bush became the first governor to incorporate the language in his state. Nine days after becoming president, Bush issued two executive orders on January 29, 2001, to create the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and additional faith-based centers within five federal agencies. In December 2002 and June 2004, Bush, by fiat, created additional faith-based offices at the federal level.

Over a 17-day period in July 2001, Bush delivered seven speeches promoting his initiative, and has given more than 40 speeches explicitly addressing it for an average of one per month, the report notes. He has also promoted it in each of his State of the Union addresses and during his campaign.

For example, he told 1,600 religious leaders in Philadelphia in December 2002: “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.’ “

The White House released “Unlevel Playing Field” in 2001, which the Rockefeller report points out contains major factual errors. One example: It claims HUD gave no funding to religious groups under its $20 million Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program, when it actually had given more than half of its total funding in 2000 to Habitat for Humanity International. It claimed HUD had banned religious groups from owning housing projects under a program for the elderly, when in fact religious groups made up more than two-thirds of the program’s sponsors during the program’s 35-year history.

In his December 2002 Executive Order, Bush promoted “indirect” government funding, saying if a beneficiary chooses to use a program, that program will not be required to separate its “inherently religious activities” from government-funded services. Funded religious groups do not have to impair their “religious character,” the 2002 order mandated.

While clients cannot be discriminated against on the basis of religion, the 2002 executive order exempts faith-based groups from its bans on religious discrimination in hiring. This repeals the presidential order by President Lyndon Johnson prohibiting all government contractors from discriminating on the basis of race, creed, color, or national origin.

Bush’s order that federal grants may be used to repair or preserve structures devoted to worship or religious instruction repeals formal policy in place since 1991, and longstanding tradition.

The report calls “ironic” the creation of a thick new bureaucracy to carry out the faith-based initiative. The White House faith-based office has sponsored 13 regional conferences and a national conference in D.C. attended free of charge by tens of thousands of religious leaders. Bush has appeared at three of the conferences.

The White House office publishes a 67-page “catalog” of about 150 federal grant programs, representing more than $50 billion, for which faith-based groups are eligible to apply. Each federal agency also sponsors its own national, regional and local workshops offering assistance to churches in applying for federal funds.

The report documents:

“One conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services, featured a gospel singer and a preacher, and resembled more of a tent revival than a government-sponsored information session. ‘The Lord Jesus deserves our praise,’ the soloist sang at the conference podium as 100 faith-based providers rose to their feet, pumped their palms in the air, and chanted ‘Amen’ and ‘hallelujah.’ “

The Department of Labor’s faith-based office distributed a brochure “with a mockup of a burning bush–a symbol from the Bible–brandishing the slogan, ‘Not everyone has a burning bush to tell them their life’s calling.’ “

Before the 2002 congressional race, the report says, faith-based officials appeared at GOP-sponsored events and with Republican candidates in at least six states, at events often targeting black audiences. At one South Carolina event, sponsored by the state Republican Party, the 300 black ministers who attended received follow-up letters on GOP stationery telling them how to apply for grant money.

The White House office emails more than 13,000 faith-based groups encouraging participation, announcing conferences, grants opportunities, technical assistance and resources. One 12-page message announced an upcoming grant-writing workshop, a book for pastors on “HIV/AIDS ministry” published by a religious group, and award opportunities.

The Compassion Capital Fund administered by HHS is a new “funding stream” dedicated to the Faith-Based Initiative. Intermediary recipients include Operation Blessing International, run by Rev. Pat Robertson. The intermediaries in turn sub-grant to other small organizations.

HHS recorded a 50% increase in the number of first-time grants to faith-based groups in fiscal year 2003, up to $568 million in funding.

HHS, engaging in a public outreach campaign, has sponsored 24 workshops around the country to date. HHS is emphasizing abstinence education, mentoring children through religious groups, advocating marriage promotion (redirecting money from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), and giving block grants for substance abuse, and many other smaller programs.

HHS is also encouraging religious groups to work with food and nutrition programs, Medicare and Medicaid services, refugee resettlement, younger offender reentry programs, Native American aid, Head Start, youth workplace transition, immunization, etc.

The report concisely summarizes the faith-based actions by the departments of HUD, Labor, Education, Justice, Agency for International Development, and Agriculture, Veterans Affairs, Commerce and the Small Business Administration. Other federal programs with faith-based outreach include the Corporation for National and Community Service (Americorps, etc.), EPA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, National Credit Union Administration, Social Service, FICA and Federal Home Loan Bank.

Freedom From Religion Foundation