Bush 'faith-based' Initiative Was Used For Gop Campaigns, Former White House Official Charges In New Book

White House Faith-Based Office Is 'Deplorable Sham' And Should Be Shut Down, Says AU's Lynn

A new book by a former staffer in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives details how the much-ballyhooed Bush “faith-based” initiative was cynically manipulated by Republican operatives to help GOP candidates locked in close races.

David Kuo’s forthcoming book, Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction, also asserts that applications for federal faith-based funds were sometimes rejected by reviewers because they came from non-Christian applicants, that civil rights rollbacks sought by the administration were unneeded and that Bush’s conservative Christian allies were derided behind their backs and bought off with White House cufflinks and other trinkets.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which has led opposition to President George W. Bush’s faith-based initiative, said the information is confirmation of critics’ long-standing complaints.

“This is proof that the faith-based initiative was a deplorable sham from day one,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “This initiative was never about helping the poor; it was about shameless partisan politicking. It has undercut the constitutional separation of church and state, and it has been horrible public policy.

“The White House faith-based office ought to be shut down today, before more taxpayer money is misused,” Lynn said. “Kuo’s book confirms evidence that Americans United brought forward four years ago. The faith-based initiative is a travesty that has gone on far too long.”

Kuo alleges that White House strategist Karl 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. Discussing the book on MSNBC’s “Countdown” last night, Keith Olbermann remarked, “The [faith-based] office was literally a taxpayer-funded part of the Republican campaign machinery.”

In the book, Kuo writes that in 2002, “The office decided to hold roundtable events for threatened incumbents with faith and community leaders, using the aura of our White House power to get a diverse group of faith and community leaders to a ‘nonpartisan’ event discussing how best to help poor people in their area.”

Kuo says faith-based office staffers spent a lot of their time trying to prove that religious groups were often denied federal funds because they discriminated in hiring on religious grounds. In fact, staffers were able to find few examples of such conduct. That absence of such evidence dramatically undercuts the Bush administration’s demand that Congress revise civil rights law so that religious groups will be better able to apply for funds.  

Kuo also maintains that non-Christian groups were sometimes excluded from faith-based funding, even though White House officials insisted the money would be available to all.

Kuo quotes one official who rated grant applications. He told Kuo, “When I saw one of those non-Christian groups on the set I was reviewing, I just stopped looking at them and gave them a zero. A lot of us did.”

While the White House was happy to take evangelicals’ votes, it had nothing but contempt for their leaders, Kuo asserts. He alleges that staffers in Rove’s office referred to Religious Right leaders as “nuts” and writes, “National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person and then were dismissed behind their backs and described as ridiculous, out of control and just plain goofy.”

To placate them, the evangelical leaders were given White House cufflinks or pens, Kuo writes.

Americans United’s Lynn said the new revelations underscore charges AU made four years ago about the faith-based initiative.

During the 2002 elections, AU issued a report noting that James Towey, then head of the faith-based office, traveled to states and districts with close races to host “seminars” on how religious leaders could get federal money. He was usually accompanied by Republican candidates. The pattern was repeated in 2004.

Concluded Lynn, “All of this just underscores why the faith-based initiative is such a bad idea. The White House politicized the initiative, and many religious leaders have ended up being manipulated. I hope this sorry incident is a lesson to them.”

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.

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.