- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2003

A new report says the Bush administration has made "ample progress" in its goal of expanding funding opportunities for religious groups, even though Congress has failed to pass legislation toward that end.
"The faith-based initiative of this administration is a lot more than a specific piece of legislation. … To announce it is dead in its tracks is not true at all," said Michael S. Joyce, president of the Foundation for Community and Faith Centered Enterprise (FCFE).
Founded in May 2001, FCFE is the leading private-sector partner for President Bush's community and faith-based initiative. The foundation is the author of the new report, "Nurturing the Roots of Charity: A Review of the President's Initiatives for Faith Centered and Community Organizations."
In an interview yesterday, Mr. Joyce went beyond the term "ample progress" that was used in the report. "A tremendous amount of progress has been made in the past two years," he said.
"There's been a broad-based sweep reforming the way we deliver social services in this country."
The FCFE report points out that Mr. Bush signed four executive orders to set his faith-based initiative in motion. The last one, signed in December, it said, was designed to help level the playing field for religious and secular groups seeking federal funds. In the past, secular nonprofit groups had a decided advantage.
The president had sought federal legislation that would allow church groups to compete for tax dollars without having to abandon their religious principles. The stated purpose of the bill was to assist religious charities. But the scaled-down version of the bill passed this month by the Senate made no mention of religious or faith-based groups.
Nevertheless, Mr. Joyce said the executive order in effect instructs federal agencies to consider religious charities on an equal basis with secular groups when providing grant money.
He said the executive order allows church groups to apply for grants without being subject to employment practices they might oppose.
"The fact that this is an executive order concerns me," Mr. Joyce said, "since an executive order could be revoked by some future president."
The White House supports the compromise measure passed by the Senate. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, would allow Americans who do not itemize their tax returns to deduct a portion of their charitable giving and would allow people to donate their individual retirement accounts to charity, tax-free.
Administration officials said the White House is still committed to passing the president's faith-based agenda.
"But I have to laugh every time someone tries to write an obituary on faith-based initiatives. The president is not finished. He's going to persevere," Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said in an interview yesterday.
"Eventually, legislation will come out right. It's a matter of time and effort. This is complicated," Mr. Joyce said.
"Religious groups want to compete for grants without their religious affiliations being damaged or compromised. That's a legitimate concern," he said.
The foundation he heads says it is "dedicated to ensuring that public policy supports effective community- and faith-based groups, ends discrimination against faith-based providers, and revives the American tradition of person-to-person charity."
Mr. Joyce says the president's faith-based initiatives have not only increased the funding opportunities of religious groups in the public sector, but also in the private sector.
"The private sector has become awakened. President Bush has helped legitimate faith-based groups [as recipients] of private-sector funding," he said.
Mr. Joyce called this a "new trend" and one that's "very desirable," given that there are 50,000 private-sector foundations nationwide, which have "vast resources."

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