'Faith-Based' Aid At Two Agencies Hits $1.1 Billion, President Bush Boasts

Citing "faith-based" funding figures from two federal agencies, President George W. Bush has told clergy and charity workers in Los Angeles that it is essential for the government to work with religious groups.

Speaking at a White House-based conference on the faith-based initiative March 3, Bush insisted that religious groups should be able to access taxpayer money without watering down their sectarian nature.

"See, I believe this: It's hard to be a faith-based program if you can't practice faith," he said.

Bush went on to say that groups that take the money will not be permitted to proselytize or restrict their services to certain religious believers only.

"But one of the things that I can assure you," he added, "our intention is to make sure that you're able to practice your faith as you fulfill your mission.... We're working hard to make sure the regulations are not onerous."

During his remarks, Bush noted that in a one-year period there has been a $144-million increase in funding to faith-based groups through the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Health and Human Services. He said the agencies gave a total of $1.1 billion to faith-based organizations in 2003.

"It's not bad," said Bush. "It's a pretty good start."

He said he had told department heads to "make sure your faith-based offices that you have set up in your cabinets move the money out in a way that is that honors the executive order I signed."

Bush told the crowd, "You're soldiers in the armies of compassion. You're people who have put on the mighty, mighty armor of the Almighty in order to save lives, one person at a time."

That same day, White House "Faith Czar" James Towey briefed reporters traveling with Bush on Air Force One. Towey bragged about the amount of tax aid going to religious organizations, noting the increase Bush talked about later in the day.

Towey, however, did not release faith-based aid figures from previous years. Thus, no one knows how much the Bush initiative has affected federal funding. Catholic Charities and other religiously affiliated groups have been receiving federal funds for decades, but the public money has theoretically been spent in compliance with significant church-state safeguards.

Towey also did not mention that the funding cited is not new money, but merely a reallocation of previously existing resources. Thus, at least some of the money awarded to new faith-based groups was taken from secular providers or other religious groups who were then denied aid or given reduced amounts.