By ELISABETH BUMILLER
Published: March 2, 2005
WASHINGTON, March 1 - President Bush said on Tuesday that his administration awarded $2 billion in grants last year to social programs operated by churches, synagogues and mosques.
A White House official said that was probably the most money the federal government had given in one year to religious charities.
"It is said that faith can move mountains," Mr. Bush told a conference of 300 leaders of religious organizations in a ballroom at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. "Here in Washington, D.C., those helping the poor and needy often run up against a big mountain called bureaucracy. And I'm here to talk about how to move that mountain so that we can reach out and partner with programs which reach out to people who hurt."
In his bluntest remark, the president said religious charities that accepted federal money were not allowed to discriminate against people of other faiths.
"What that means," Mr. Bush said, "is if you're the Methodist Church and you sponsor an alcohol treatment center, they can't say, 'Only Methodists, only Methodists who drink too much can come to our program.'
"All drunks are welcome, is what the sign ought to say."
Mr. Bush is a Methodist, and by his account used to drink too much.
The conference, organized by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, intended to help religious charities apply for federal money for programs that help addicts, prisoners, the homeless and others. The "faith based initiative," as the White House calls it, is a central part of Mr. Bush's "compassionate conservative" agenda that tries to bring a new Republican approach to social problems and poverty.
Legislation that would have made it easier for religious charities to seek government money for social programs faltered in Congress in Mr. Bush's first term, forcing the president to bypass Capitol Hill and sign three executive orders that established religion-based offices in 10 federal agencies.
Mr. Bush said the directives, which removed barriers for religious groups that sought federal aid for social programs, were necessary because, in his view, religious charities were in the past unfairly denied government money simply because they were religious.
His critics have long countered that he is promoting the view of a highly religious White House, breaking down barriers between church and state and using taxpayer money to promote organized religion.
In his remarks on Tuesday, Mr. Bush said that of the $20 billion a year for social programs that individual groups could compete for, 10 percent went to religious charities last year. He said the number represented a 20 percent increase over 2003, when 8.1 percent of similar grants went to religious groups. Mr. Bush said he was pleased, but not satisfied.
"Ten percent isn't perfect," he said. "Ten percent is progress."
The amount of progress may be less clear than Mr. Bush said. In 2003, $1.1 billion was awarded to religious groups from money administered by five agencies, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor and Education. Grants were also awarded to religious groups in 2003 from money administered by two other agencies, the Agriculture Department and the Agency for International Development. Those two were not tabulated in the 2003 total; this year, they were.
The director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, Jim Towey, said in a conference call with reporters he believed that religious charities were receiving record federal money but that "because records have never been kept prior to last year to document that, you can also say we'll never know."
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/02/polit ... f5&ei=5070