On this day in 2002, President George W. Bush announces his plan to federally fund faith-based initiatives.
Bush started his day at a National Prayer Breakfast held in the ballroom of the Washington Hilton Hotel, where he explained the basic philosophy behind his plan. In service to others, he said, we find deep human fulfillment. And as acts of service are multiplied, our nation becomes a more welcoming place. Later that day, he announced the new policy from the Oval Office with leading members of Congress and the press in attendance. Bush proposed that faith-based organizations should assume a greater role in providing social-service programs without breaching the separation of church and state. He suggested that government should not discriminate against faith-based programs, but it should encourage them to flourish. Under his plan, religious groups could receive federal funding to implement programs usually carried out by secular non-profit organizations.
A devout Christian, Bush’s plan applied to a multitude of denominations in order to, in his words, unleash these fantastic armies of compassion which exist all across the country. The new policy received bipartisan support, including kudos from leading Senators Joseph Liebermann and Rick Santorum. The senators agreed with Bush that individuals and couples should receive tax breaks for donations to faith-based charities as well as secular organizations.
Bush’s plan to federally fund faith-based programs upset die-hard secularists and debate over the efficacy and constitutionality of the program continued into his second term. While a study by the PEW Forum on Religion and Public Life revealed that approximately 70 percent of Americans prefer that government agencies provide the majority of aid to the needy and poor, the same number supported the right of church organizations to apply for federal funding for their social programs.