By Sarah Lechner
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
February 12, 2001
President George W. Bush signed an executive order Jan. 29, creating the first religiously affiliated office in the White House.
The plan is intended to help faith-based and local charity organizations provide federal funding to communities in need.
While his plan will also give more federal money to non-religious organizations, the presidential announcement focused on giving federal money to religious organizations. Bush stressed that federal money would only go to community service projects.
Bush brought representatives from religious organizations to the White House for his announcement.
Harvey Blitz, president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, attended the announcement and released a statement later that day commending Bush for his action.
“The Orthodox Jewish community is pleased that President Bush is committed to increasing the partnership between government and faith-based institutions so that we may bring greater energy and determination to redressing many of America’s social ills,” Blitz said.
But Blitz said the administration of the program must proceed carefully.
“While we must be careful that these programs are administered in a religiously sensitive and constitutional manner, there is, I believe, a broad consensus that faith-based groups can serve the needy in a manner beyond the capacity of government programs,” he said.
Bush created an Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in the White House, which will be led by John DiIulio, a University of Pennsylvania professor. DiIulio will oversee an office that will develop and coordinate Bush’s policy toward community action.
Bush said that citizens must come together to help communities.
“It is one of the great goals of my administration to invigorate the spirit of involvement and citizenship,” said Bush in his speech. “We will encourage faith-based and community programs without changing their mission. We will help all in their work to change hearts while keeping a commitment to pluralism.”
The office is scheduled to open Feb. 20.
Non-profit groups expressed the need to proceed carefully with the faith-based office.
“The faith-based initiative needs to be explored cautiously. The real issue here is community capacity building,” said Fred Taylor, executive director of For the Love of Children, a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C.
FLOC serves children and families with crisis intervention and youth development programs.
“All participants in the community can contribute, but we need to build in discipline and standards to ensure the poor, the sick and the needy really get what they need to be independent and healthy,” Taylor said. “We need to proceed carefully, with ultimate consideration for those intended to benefit.”