Jun 26, 2008

President George W. Bush’s “faith-based” initiative has been riddled with abuses and should be scrapped, not celebrated, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Today, the White House is sponsoring a national conference on “faith-based” social services, featuring a speech by Bush.

“The ‘faith-based’ initiative should be shut down, not celebrated,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “Since day one, the Bush administration has misused the initiative to advance its political agenda and reward religious and political cronies.

“The initiative has undermined vital constitutional and civil rights safeguards,” said Lynn. “And it has been cynically manipulated for partisan ends. The ‘faith-based’ initiative has been a disaster of biblical proportions.”

The White House event comes in the same week as the latest revelation of dubious decisions surrounding the initiative.

Earlier this week, ABC News reported, “A former top official in the White House's faith-based office was awarded a lucrative Department of Justice grant under pressure from two senior Bush administration appointees, according to current and former DOJ staff members and a review of internal DOJ documents and emails.

“The $1.2 million grant,” said ABC, “was jointly 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, and a California evangelical group, Victory Outreach.

“The grant was awarded,” ABC found, “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.”

ABC said Cummins’ company, Urban Strategies LLC, was slated to get one third of the money for helping the self-described “evangelizing” Victory Outreach use the rest of the funds.

This example of inappropriate funding is only the latest in a long string of “faith-based” abuses by the Bush administration.

David Kuo, former deputy director of the White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, wrote a book revealing that political operatives in the White House, led by Karl Rove, cynically used the “faith-based” initiative to energize its Religious Right base and help favored candidates.

Kuo’s Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction reported that the White House faith-based office was used in 2002 primarily to help elect Republican candidates in tight races. Kuo said White House strategist Rove and other Republican leaders staged a series of supposedly non-partisan events around the faith-based initiative in states with tight House and Senate races.

According to Kuo, 20 events were held, and Republican candidates subsequently won 19 of those races.

Kuo also said that grant reviewers engaged in religious discrimination in the awarding of federal grants through the Compassion Capital fund. There are also reports that the Bush administration manipulated the rules to help favored grantees.

According to Youth Today, a federal juvenile justice official helped selected organizations apply for Justice Department grants past the deadline -- a significant violation of department policy -- and directed employees to help a favored organization win a grant, according to federal documents.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.