Religious Watchdog Group Calls for Closing of Faith-Based Office

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:05pm EDT

( - A religious watchdog group applauded the departure of White House "faith czar" James Towey on Tuesday and called on President Bush to close the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Towey, who served as assistant to the president and director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives since 2002, is leaving to become the 16th president of Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., beginning July 1.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State Executive Director Barry W. Lynn accused Towey of having "waged an unrelenting war against church-state separation."

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits Congress from passing any law that either establishes religion or prevents its free expression. It is interpreted by some, like Americans United, as the so-called separation of church and state.

"Towey was the Bush administration's point man in trying to roll back civil rights laws barring religious discrimination in hiring in government-funded programs," Lynn added. "I am pleased that he failed to push that terrible idea through Congress."

Lynn also used Towey's resignation to call for the abolishment of the faith-based office.

"With Towey's resignation in hand, the president should do the American people a favor and close the misguided faith-based office," Lynn said.

"The administration's faith-based initiative has always been about funneling public funds to favored political constituencies, not helping the poor," he added. "In the process, the White House has trampled the First Amendment principle of church-state separation and jeopardized important civil rights laws.

"When civil rights and civil liberties leaders criticized the administration's faith-based plan, Towey would respond with name-calling," said Lynn. "It's a tired but annoying strategy to defend a constitutionally suspect program."

Prior to his tenure at the White House, Towey spent 10 years as a senior advisor to Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield and Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, serving Chiles as secretary of Florida's health and social services agency and its 40,000 employees.

After his selection as Saint Vincent College president was announced, Towey said he looked forward to the position and praised "the educational value, the diverse student body and the Catholic, Benedictine tradition" of the school.

Towey called Saint Vincent "a treasure" that is "poised to make even greater contributions to our culture, our country and our world."

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