- The Washington Times - Friday, February 2, 2001

What, pray, is all the fuss? All President George W. Bush said is he wants faith-based communities to assist those in need, and you folks start acting as if he's trying to breed a bunch of little ayatollahs.
It's as if you have never heard the term public-private partnership.
If you'd pay attention to what the president said and less to his critics' hyperbole, you'd realize that's all his faith-based initiative is a public-private partnership.
Ordinarily, such relationships are established between government and the private sector. The partnerships build stadiums, roads, low-income housing, recreation centers, and run prisons and provide child care, before- and after-school educational programs, as well as substance abuse facilities.
Examples of such partnerships are all across America. Look in the District, where Mayor Williams, in his first year in office, created the Children and Youth Investment Fund and enlisted the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN), a multidenominational group that helps the city develop programs and policies to address longstanding pathologies from teen pregnancy, infant mortality and illiteracy to juvenile crime, child abuse and substance abuse. For those same reasons similar partnerships can be found in Boston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Indianapolis. In fact, Mr. Bush enlisted former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, whose advice Mr. Williams sought early on, as a co-director of the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. So the groundwork has been in place for some time.
Interestingly, the inquisitionists i.e. congressional skeptics and such groups as Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the American Civil Liberties Union are encouraging you to have little faith. They want you to believe Mr. Bush is conducting a wholesale trampling of your civil rights, or worse, asking you to believe Mr. Bush is trying to resurrect Hitler and the Ayatollah Khomeini. Laura Murphy, Washington director of the ACLU, characterized the Bush administration's good-faith efforts as "federal funding for religion run amok."
Mr. Bush, the clergy and the grassroots leaders, who set up those other partnerships and now stand alongside the president, know better. "Government, of course, cannot fund, and will not fund, religious activities," the president said the other day. "But when people of faith provide social services, we will not discriminate against them." I couldn't have said it better myself.
Enlightened Americans know taxpayer-funded programs can, and do, finance the soup in a church's soup kitchens but cannot pay for the crucifixes adorning the pulpit. We also know there are untold numbers of folks out there who depend on that soup. What are we to tell them? Wait until the federal bureaucracy sets up a government-owned and government-operated food line? Or tell an AIDS patient, "Hold on until next fiscal year." And what about non-English-speaking immigrant families? "Uh, Father Flanagan has no room in his tutoring class."
Frankly, America, if we don't ask our preachers, and rabbis, and priests, imams and other clergy to, er, practice what they preach that is give back to their communities then who, pray, will?
With all do respect to John F. Kennedy, we know all too well what this country can do for us. The question is: What can America do for the faith community on behalf of those who cannot do for themselves?
E-mail: simmon@twtmail.com

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