|Bush Orders Faith-Based Initiative Forward|
Flexing his executive power, President Bush today ordered the enactment of key elements of his Faith-Based and Community Initiative, including some elements contained in the bipartisan C.A.R.E. Act legislation that stalled in the Senate this year. [See: Bush Renews Faith-Based Battle]
On Dec. 12, President Bush issued two executive orders the White House says will assist churches and religious organizations in competing for federal funding.
Groups can hire based on religion of workers
In the first executive order, Bush directs all federal agencies that religious organizations can refuse to hire employees of different faiths without jeopardizing their chances of winning government contracts. The action however, did not apply to the federal grant-making process, a change that would require the approval of Congress.
"The days of discriminating against religious groups just because they are religious are coming to an end," said Bush, at a ceremony marking his issuance of the orders.
The order also directs federal agencies they can no longer refuse to pay private contractors who display religious icons, such as crosses or menorahs on their jobs sites.
"If a charity is helping the needy, it should not matter if there is a rabbi on the board, or a cross or a crescent on the wall, or a religious commitment in the charter," said Bush.
The order also directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to revise its policy on emergency relief so that religious nonprofit groups can qualify for assistance after disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes.
The order does, however, restate existing government policy preventing religious organizations using federal funds from preaching, or "proselytizing" a particular faith, worshiping or providing religious instruction.
Further organization of the faith-based initiative
The second executive order establishes a Centers for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives within the Department of Agriculture and the Agency for International Development.
According to the order, the purpose of the Centers will be to streamline the governmental processes required of religious organizations in applying for federal funding and grants, or to "coordinate agency efforts to eliminate regulatory, contracting, and other programmatic obstacles to the participation of faith-based and other community organizations in the provision of social services."
The new Centers provided for in the order will join existing Centers under the Departments of Education, Justice, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development.
"Through all these actions, I hope that every faith-based group in America, the social entrepreneurs of America, understand that this government respects your work and we respect the motivation behind your work," said President Bush.
"For too long, for too long, some in government believed there was no room for faith in the public square."
The Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost to the government of Faith-Based-related programs at more than $13 billion over the 2002-2011 period. [Detailed CBO Analysis]