On 29 January 2001, nine days after his inauguration as the 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush issued a proposal to provide government money for churches and other houses of worship that offer social services for Americans in need. The president stated, "When we see social needs in America, my administration will look first to faith-based programs and community groups, which have proven their power to save and change lives." The president drew a line between what the initiative will support and what it will not. He said, "We will not fund the religious activities of any group, but when people of faith provide social services we will not discriminate against them." As to his administration's commitment to the initiative the president confidently declared, "It's going to be one of the most important initiatives that my administration not only discusses, but also implements."
Subsequently, President Bush issued executive orders to establish the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to coordinate the program and appointed Professor J.D. Dilulio, Jr., political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, as the executive director of the Initiative. The next day, Bush charged the Congress to pave the way for faith-based organizations to "compete with secular agencies for government dollars." The president signed another executive order committing five cabinet departments-justice, housing and urban development, health and human services, labor, and education-to "investigate ways to make it easier for faith-based groups to compete for government contracts." The president's plan earmarks between $8 billion and $10 billion to be spent on faith-based initiatives during his first year in office.
Due to constitutional restrictions on government funding of religious institutions in the United States, Bush's plan is a bold challenge to the principle of church-state separation. Churches and other faithbased organizations in the United States are often prohibited from receiving direct government grants, not because the government chooses to discriminate against religion, but because the courts have usually understood the constitutional purpose for restrictions on funding of religion to be grounded in the notion that religion functions more effectively if it is autonomous, not tied to government, and not threatened by government supervision and control. It is true, of course, that some religiously affiliated organizations have received government funding for decades. However, these groups are legally separate in structure from churches and other houses of worship, and they are neither allowed to proselytize their clients nor discriminate on the basis of religion in hiring. These rules are designed to protect the religious liberty of clients and to further the nation's commitment to nondiscrimination when using government dollars to finance a program. Successful organizations like Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services have operated effectively with these rules for years. Under Mr. Bush's plan, religious organizations could receive government funding directly rather than having to establish insulated social service organizations. There would be much less concern for the nature of religious activity engaged in by faith-based social service providers, and they would not be prohibited from using religious criteria in hiring. Also, while the Bush plan technically does not permit the use of government money to proselytize, there is no prohibition against a house of worship using its own money to proselytize. Thus, by way of example, a church could set up a program requiring a client to hear a sermon before accessing social service benefits.
REACTION FROM GOVERNMENT AND RELIGUIOUS LEADERS
Bush's proposal has received mixed reaction from government and religious leaders. Several Congressmen have rallied in support of the proposal maintaining that there is neither a …