CHURCH AND STATE IN THE U.S.: Bush Has Given Faith-Based Groups Immense Political Clout

By Monkerud, Don | CCPA Monitor, June 2005 | Go to article overview

CHURCH AND STATE IN THE U.S.: Bush Has Given Faith-Based Groups Immense Political Clout


Monkerud, Don, CCPA Monitor


The religious right is making inroads in government at a rapid pace in the United States. While government partnership with religious groups has a long history in the U.S., the process accelerated in the 1970s and 1980s when neo-cons became alarmed about a "social and moral crisis" and pledged to strengthen families and neighbourhoods. Neo-cons claim that social problems lie beyond the scope of government and can be addressed more properly by faith-based groups, which will also lead to a reduction in government spending.

Bill Clinton's 1996 welfare reform package adopted some of the neo-cons' concerns by enlisting greater participation of religious groups in government-funded social services. In 1999, Al Gore went further, with campaign promises to make faith-based programs an "integral part" of his administration, if elected.

Nine days after his inauguration in 2001, President George W. Bush issued executive orders creating the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI) and established faith-based centres in five federal agencies.

The first head of the OFBCI, John Dilulio Jr., a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, resigned in August 2001. He told Esquire magazine: "There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one. Everything is being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."

That was Dilulio's term for the political staff, particularly Karl Rove, whom he describes as "the single most powerful person in the modern, post-Hoover era ever to occupy a political-advisor post near the Oval Office."

When Congress refused to pass additional faith-based initiatives in December 2002, Bush issued a set of executive orders to increase funding, weaken traditional barriers between government and religious activities, and build a huge network of religious groups across the country. Since then, federal agencies have finalized new regulations, including providing legal, logistical, and technical assistance to religious groups seeking financial help. The Bush administration sponsored 13 regional conferences and additional meetings across the U.S. to lobby religious organizations to apply for $50 billion in federal grants. Such organizing produced an e-mail list of 13,000 faith-based groups, which would turn out to be very useful during the 2004 election campaign.

When Bush visited the Vatican last June, he called on the church hierarchy to push U.S. bishops to speak out on political issues that would support him in the election. A group of a dozen religious conservative lobbying groups began rallying support for changing the law to allow churches to campaign directly for political candidates. The subsequent bill-the Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act-was introduced by Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) and co-sponsored by 108 Republican and four Democrats.

A recent report by the Rockefeller Institute-"The Expanding Administrative Presidency: George W. …

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CHURCH AND STATE IN THE U.S.: Bush Has Given Faith-Based Groups Immense Political Clout
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