President Bush renewed his dedication to the controversial but highly acclaimed faith-based initiatives during a White House conference of community leaders on Tuesday, June 1, 2004.
"I'm telling America, we need to not discriminate against faith-based programs," Bush said to the gathering of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other faith community leaders. "We need to welcome them so our society is more wholesome, more welcoming and more hopeful for every single citizen."
While opponents of the initiative expressed concerns that the government would wind up paying for religion, Bush reiterated the fact that the motive for the initiative is not to mix church and state but to allow all social service groups an equal access to federal grants.
"I fully understand it's important to maintain the separation of church and state," Bush said. "We don't want the state to become the church nor do we want the church to become the state. We're in common agreement there."
"But I do believe that groups should be allowed to access social service grants so long as they don't proselytize or exclude somebody simply because they don't share a certain faith," he said.
"In other words, there's a way to accomplish the separation of church and state and at the same time accomplish the social objective of having America become a hopeful place and loving place," Bush said to loud applause and shouts of "Amen."
The faith-based initiative was among the first marks of President Bush’s candidacy. While Congress has thwarted the full legislation, Bush continued on the program through executive orders and regulations to provide equal opportunity for religious groups in competing for federal funds.
According to the White House, the goal is to make sure that grass roots leaders can compete on an equal footing for federal dollars, receive greater private support and face fewer bureaucratic barriers. Many Christian organizations that serve at-risk youth, ex-offenders, the homeless and the hungry, substance abusers, welfare-to-work families, and those with HIV or AIDS have already received some federal grants to assist their good works.