- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 26, 2001

The White House's faith-based initiative is fast becoming a victim of partisanship and the president's complacency. John J. DiIulio, head of the White House's faith-based office, recently resigned after a seven month stint in the administration, and it is unclear just how faith-based legislation will fare in the Senate.
As Rep. J.C. Watts Jr., a Republican from Oklahoma, put it last week: "Every day we wait, our ability to serve the poor and the needy is diminished." And government has clearly waited too long. A report released last week by Mr. DiIulio's office, "Unlevel Playing Field," shows that even though a 1996 charitable choice law paved the way for public funding of faith-based organizations legislatively, these groups continue to receive little funding because of discrimination and regulatory obstacles. Mr. Bush highlighted this report in his weekly radio address on Aug. 18, adding that the White House's faith-based office "is working closely with groups to help them know their civil rights, know how to effectively apply for funds so their good works can be expanded."
But Mr. Bush's faith-based approach has been regretably Clintonian. The Bush administration has supported a conventional, bureaucratic approach to the faith-based initiative, giving government officials too much power to decide which groups should be given funding, rather than rewarding the grassroots organizations that are most often sought by individuals in need. This was apparently because polling data suggested Americans didn't support a voucherized approach to a faith-based initiative.
The president chose Mr. DiIulio to head up the initiative with this polling data in mind, apparently. Mr. DiIulio, while a fine intellectual and dedicated to the faith-based cause, is partial to making government more efficient and receptive to faith-based funding, rather than devolving the government's authority in favor of a more individualistic system. Stephen Goldsmith, former mayor of Indianapolis and head of Harvard's "Innovation in Government," would have supported a more laissez-faire approach. But according to an Aug. 18 article in The Washington Times, Mr. Goldsmith isn't currently interested in heading up the initiative, stating it has become a different kind of job now that the first report is out and the House has passed its charitable choice bill. In other words, the trajectory of the faith-based initiative has already been set, and it isn't in the direction of vouchers.
Clearly, the V-word does generate a wide range of public opinion, whether it be in the education or faith-based arena. But empowering individual choices to determine where public funding goes is the best charitable choice system, and helps ensure a clear separation of church and state.


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