Jun 25, 2008

Thanks to a strong push by the Bush administration, the U.S. Department of Justice awarded part of a $1.2 million grant to an evangelical Christian organization, Victory Outreach, whose mission is to carry "the hope and message of Jesus Christ to the four corners of the earth," ABC News has reported.

The other part of the $1.2 million was awarded to a consulting firm run by Lisa Trevino Cummins, who previously headed Hispanic outreach efforts for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

According to ABC, "The grant was awarded over the strong objections of career DOJ staff who did not believe that Victory Outreach was qualified for the grant and that too great an amount of the funds was going to Cummins' consulting company instead of being spent on services for children."

In the end, the network reported, Victory Outreach rejected the grant because it was too large and the group did not believe it was qualified to carry it out.

A former DOJ official who spent 10 years awarding juvenile crime grants told ABC News earlier this month that "the agenda for children is not always a priority" in awarding the grants since J. Robert Flores took over as administrator of the DOJ's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

ABC News reported that Flores has consistently ignored recommendations from DOJ staff, and instead has awarded grants to organizations that have "political, social or religious connections to the Bush administration." He is now under investigation by the DOJ's Inspector General.

The DOJ's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which exists to prevent and respond to juvenile delinquency and victimization, is supposed to award grants to organizations performing services that will help meet this goal. It turns out it has become yet another chance for Bush to get his faith-based agenda some play.

In addition to Victory Outreach, $1.1 million went to an organization called "Best Friends," which has a fundraising gala every year for a program that promotes teenage abstinence. "Best Friends" is run by the wife of former Republican Cabinet member William Bennett.

ABC News also reported that Flores turned down money to the program ranked highest in merit by DOJ staff because it provided sex education and condoms to at-risk teenagers in San Diego.

The report noted that in the six years Flores has been in charge, he has never approved grant money for programs that work with gay and lesbian teens, a group with a high risk for suicide.

But what Flores, and apparently Bush, believe will really help save the children is the half million dollars that went to the World Golf Foundation. Not shockingly, the group's honorary chairman happens to be former president George H.W. Bush.

President Bush's "faith-based" initiative has been a fiasco, and the examples now being reported are just the latest bits of evidence. The initiative has been riddled with partisan politics and favoritism toward political and religious cronies, and it has undercut civil rights and civil liberties.

Bush is reportedly scheduled to speak at a faith-based conference tomorrow. Wouldn't it be great if he announced that the initiative has all been a horrible mistake and he's shutting it down?