Bush Meets With Religious Leaders To Discuss Plans For "Faith Based" Initiatives

December 21, 2000

Source: The New York Times

On December 21, 2000, The New York Times reported that President-elect George W. Bush met with about 30 ministers and other religious leaders, many of them black, to talk about his plans to expand the roles of the churches and charities in federal welfare programs. Bush asked the leaders for suggestions about how to proceed with "faith based" initiatives, which includes financing churches and private charities to take over government welfare functions as well as using tax breaks and other incentives to spark donations. Participants said that Bush emphasized that he knew he was viewed skepically by many blacks, and he asked how he could change that image. Bush did not explain any specific programs, but the likely head of an office for initiatives he wants to create is Stephen Goldsmithe, former mayor of Indianapolis and Bush's chief domestic policy advisor during his campaign. There are many who are wary of Bush's plans, because they fear that it will lead to government interference in their ministries, or that tax dollars will be given to the most politically connected ministers. There are also those who say that Bush's planned programs could lead to a violation of the separation of church and state. Supporters, on the other hand, say that if participation is not limited to certain religions and assuring people that they can attend secular alternatives, that problem can be avoided. Bush has given the positions of secretary of state and national security adviser to blacks. These appointees are the first of their race to serve in those positions. "The Rev. Robert Sirico, president of Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Mich., said that throughout the discussion Mr. Bush was closely engaged with each person who spoke. 'You can see there was a real religious interest here,' Father Sirico said. 'This is a man who has had a religious experience, who understands the influence of religion in a very dramatic way.'"