During his presidential campaign, George W. Bush campaigned on a platform of personal piety and compassionate conservatism, garnering support from religious groups across the country.
Members of some religious groups congratulated the president on his mention of non-Christian religions in his inaugural address.
“I appreciated that Bush made a reference to mosques in his address, and I think that he may have been the first president to do so,” said Rabbi Gerry Serotta, the director of GW Hillel. “The president was more reasonable than some of the people who spoke before him, who seemed to be only speaking to Christian groups.”
Some students said they hope Bush would continue the promises of diversity and unity in his campaign.
“We hope that Bush will be receptive with other faiths and ideas, and we would wholeheartedly support him in those efforts,” said Faisal Matadar, president of the Muslim Students Association.
The religious invocations at the inauguration and appointments of conservatives like Attorney General-designee John Ashcroft have fueled anti-Bush sentiment. But some students said they are waiting to give Bush the benefit of the doubt.
“It is his prerogative to appoint people,” Matadar said. “Ashcroft is easy to focus on, but overall (Bush) has been very open.”
Josiah Akinyele, a member of the Rock Christian Fellowship, agreed.
“I think that his decisions will have elements of faith, but I am sure that he will consider others who don’t believe the same way,” he said.
One campaign proposal Bush made was for a federal agency called the “Office of Faith-based Action,” which would allow public funds to be provided to private organizations, specifically religious organizations, to aid in public and community service goals.
“I remember last year when my church ran an inner-city outreach program,” Akinyele said. “We were able to adopt 10 families. We played games and gave Christmas gifts, but we were not able to help all the people who wanted to participate.”
But there is mounting concern that funding programs would create a dependence on the government and use tax revenue to pay for religious instruction. Serotta said he fears that such an office would blur the line between religion and state.
“There is a growing danger in making religious groups depend on the federal government,” Serotta said. “It is too easy to get over the line.”
The mission of the office would be to remove existing governmental regulations discouraging religious organizations from participating in federal programs.
“This is not a new situation,” GW law professor Robert Tuttle said. “The publicity around the issue is new, but since the beginning of the Republic’s religious and charity groups have done the bulk of the social work in this country. That changed under the New Deal and the Great Society, but it still is done, in large part by these organizations.”
Despite the support that plans have received, the opposition to state-funded religious programs is strong.
Four lawsuits have been filed in connection with various instances of federally supported religious charity.
“As long as the providers of the services provide the service to all people, regardless of affiliation, there is no legal restriction,” Tuttle said.