Group Attacks Bush Record on Faith-Based Initiatives in Texas

By Lawrence Morahan | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

Washington ( - Faith-based policies initiated by President Bush when he served as Texas governor have had adverse consequences for state residents and would serve as bad models for the nation, a Texas public policy group charged Thursday.

Five years into the faith-based initiative in Texas, the program is unregulated, prone to favoritism and co-mingling of funds, and dangerous to the people it's supposed to serve, representatives of the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference.

"What was a disastrous idea in Texas has now unfortunately become a dangerous plan for our country," said Samantha Smoot, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, a group that boasts a membership of 10,000 people dedicated to monitoring the radical religious right.

The press conference coincided with the publication by the Texas Freedom Network of "The Texas Faith-Based Initiative at Five Years," a highly critical report of the president's record.

Bush's initiative forced people in need into sectarian programs in which they had to engage in religious activities as a condition of receiving essential services, Smoot charged. The program also resulted in preferential treatment for religious providers in government contracting, she said.

The initiative exempted some religious providers from state licensing requirements, which had the effect of lowering the standards for health care in the state, Smoot said. Some agencies that received funds under the program put patients at risk by classifying conditions like alcoholism and drug addiction as sins, not diseases, she said.

Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and an outspoken critic of faith-based initiatives, called Bush's policies in Texas an "abject failure."

"The system Governor Bush created failed beneficiaries and their families, it failed social service providers, it failed the state's religious community and ultimately failed the taxpayers of Texas, who ended up being forced to finance a hopelessly defective system," Lynn said.

Last week the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded $30 million in grants to religious organizations in the second round of allocations as part of Bush's faith-based initiative. Earlier this year, the Department of Labor issued $14.9 million in grants.

Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, who was attending the first regional conference of the faith-based initiative in Atlanta, Ga., rejected claims that the program is in trouble in Texas.

"From my standpoint, the initiative has done well in Texas and the initiative is alive and well in the neighborhoods of America," Towey told

In response to charges by critics that the system is being abused, he said faith-based groups have a right to provide a federally funded service, but they're not allowed to promote religious beliefs with public money.

"President Bush has been very clear in saying that federal law, constitutional laws are to be followed and that federal funds are to be used to provide the service and not to promote religion. So if people use federal money to promote religion, they're running afoul of the law," Towey said.

Lynn has been trying to declare the initiative stalled, dead, or decayed for two years, Towey said.

"Reverend Lynn and his organization has an extremist point of view of what church-state separation means. His criticism is expected," he said. "That's what he's paid to do."

Towey said he hoped the president would see faith-based legislation on his desk before the end of next week.

"We're hopeful Congress passes legislation to give clear guidance to the public. But if Congress doesn't, I'm sure the president's going to step in there and provide guidance," Towey said.

Some conservatives also criticized the president's initiative. Rep. Ron Paul, (R-Texas), voted against the initiative in Congress because he believed it could force churches to alter their message in order to qualify for government funds, said Jeff Deist, a spokesman for Paul.

The churches' primary mission is to promote their faith and their religious message and that could be threatened when they become dependent on receiving federal funds, Deist said.

Private charities can do a much better job than federal welfare in helping people with their problems, however, "We just feel like the approach is to stop taxing people so much and let private charity flourish," he said.

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