During the Republican Party's 2000 national convention, the Rev. Herbert H. Lusk II, heartily endorsed Bush for president in a satellite television uplink from his church. Since that time, Lusk has repeatedly advocated for Bush's "faith-based" initiative that seeks to fund church-run social service programs.
As the president was preparing to speak at Lusk's Greater Exodus Baptist Church on combating AIDS at home and abroad, the Associated Press reported that the church's charitable operation, People For People, has been awarded a nearly $1-million "faith-based" grant. The article also noted that Lusk hopes President Bush's "faith-based" agenda will help garner more black votes for the president's re-election bid. Lusk told the AP that Bush "is worthy of the African-American vote."
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, called the grant of money "a clear and sad example of how government grants can lure supposedly nonpartisan churches into partisan politics."
"The Rev. Lusk endorsed candidate Bush, and wound up getting a $1-million faith-based grant from the Bush administration," Lynn said. "Now there's a heavenly payoff."
Lynn noted that Americans United filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against Lusk's church in 2000, noting that religious and other tax-exempt charitable organizations are forbidden from endorsing political candidates.
Lynn noted that Lusk's "faith-based" grant was not the first one to appear with a political taint.
In 2002, The Washington Post reported that Jim Towey, head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, had made repeated public appearances with Republican candidates in hotly contested races for Congress and other offices to discuss or award grants. In a recent interview with the evangelical magazine World, Towey warned that if Democrat John Kerry were elected, he probably would "stick the faith-based initiative in the Smithsonian."
In addition, televangelist Pat Robertson, a Bush ally, was converted from being a harsh critic of the faith-based initiative to being a supporter by a well-timed government grant. In early 2001, Robertson warned his "700 Club" viewers that the initiative "could be a real Pandora's box" because religious monitories might wind up receiving faith-based grants.
In fall 2002, Robertson's Operation Blessing received a half-million-dollar faith-based grant from the Department of Health and Human Resources. Since then, the TV preacher has not criticized the initiative.