Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Faith-based initiative again

Back in February, former Bush Administration official David Kuo attracted a lot of attention, including mine, with this column critical of his former boss’ lackluster follow-through on the legislative proposals connected with the faith-based initiative. His argument was taken by many to imply that GWB simply wanted to reach out to religionists for merely political reasons, for which more or less empty gestures were almost as good as real efforts and real money.

Today I read a measured response to Kuo’s argument, written by Stanley Carlson-Thies, another former Bush Administration official. Carlson-Thies points to the real and substantial administrative accomplishments of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, as well as of the FBCI centers in various executive agencies. Here’s a taste:

The previous administration had dragged its feet concerning Charitable Choice, doing little to inform state and local officials—the officials who actually administer almost all of the federal funds to which the new rules apply—about the provisions. But the Bush administration has issued Charitable Choice regulations, clarifying the requirements and the extent of their application. Even more important, to guide federal, state, and local officials who expend the bulk of federal funds which are not governed by Charitable Choice, in December, 2002, the President issued a path-breaking Equal Protection Executive Order (Executive Order 13279). The presidential directive mandates equal opportunity for faith-based applicants, protects their religious character, establishes guidelines to prevent the diversion of government money from social services to "inherently religious activities" like prayer and evangelism, and protects the religious liberty of beneficiaries. These equal treatment principles have now been encoded into the general administrative rules of various federal departments, to govern all the federal funds that support social services, whether those funds are awarded by federal, state, or local officials.

This is not to say that Carlson-Thies is uniformly positive: a lot of work remains to be done, both administratively and legislatively. Indeed, he has concrete suggestions. For example, with respect to the new Access to Recovery substance-abuse treatment program, Carlson-Thies has this to say:

To win an Access to Recovery grant, states had to promise to offer recovery-support services as well as their usual clinical-treatment programs, to recruit new providers, including faith-based programs, and to institute a voucher system to give addicts a choice of provider and to enable the providers they select to offer services incorporating religion, without violating the Constitution. But federal officials have not issued detailed guidelines for states about what constitutes equal opportunity for previously excluded faith-based treatment providers nor about the freedom they must give those providers to express religion in their programs. In the absence of well-publicized and clear standards, the anti-faith bias of most states’ drug-treatment agencies and their traditional treatment partners has barely changed, so that in many states outreach efforts have been constricted, eligibility standards have been only minimally modified, and the terms of collaboration have shifted little. Robustly faith-based service providers, if recruited at all, confront restrictions on religious expression that they suspect must no longer be legal, but there are no detailed rules to which they can appeal nor, apparently, anyone in the federal government ready to hear complaints and demand change from recalcitrant state officials.

In other words, where Kuo largely offered political criticism, on grounds liberals find congenial (not enough money doled out), Carlson-Thies largely offers constructive criticism aimed at fixing some of what ails the initiative. While he clearly wishes that more money--private as well as public--would flow to worthy beneficiaries, he seems less interested in embarrassing the President than in promoting the policies to which he has devoted a good portion of his career. I guess that’s why we haven’t read much about this column in the MSM.

By the way, for my review of a book co-authored by Carlson-Thies, take a look at the latest
Local Liberty, not yet posted on-line, but available free by mail from the Claremont Institute’s Center for Local Government 

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