Bookmark and Share
Printer Friendly
August 17, 2006

Bush Appoints Conservative to Head Faith-Based Office while Jewish Community Isn’t Looking

Listed in: Separation of Church and State, NJDC News, Press Releases

While the American Jewish community has been closely watching events unfold in the Middle East and Connecticut this month, President Bush and his Administration have been busy furthering their conservative agenda.

On August 3, Bush appointed a new director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (FBCI). Bush called the new director, Jay Hein, a "leading voice for compassionate conservatism" and advocate for faith-based organizations.

American Jews should beware this new appointment. In the mid-90s, Hein served as Welfare Reform Policy Assistant to former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson. Hein helped Thompson develop, pass, and implement changes to the state's welfare system.

In 2001, The Nation reported that welfare reform in Wisconsin allowed for-profit institutions in Milwaukee alone to pocket $27 million intended for those in need, reduced the average income of low-income families by $2,000, and led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to declare that Wisconsin welfare agencies "put illegal obstacles in the way of people trying to obtain food stamp benefits."

It is both troubling and ironic that the man who President Bush appointed to lead an office supposedly aimed at helping organizations who have "a long tradition of helping Americans in need" was responsible for designing and implementing a program penalizing low-income families for taking themselves off of welfare in Wisconsin.

As if that wasn't enough, this past June, the General Accountability Office (GAO) - Congress' independent investigative arm and the only part of Congress doing any type of oversight on the Executive Branch - released an alarming study stating that faith-based organizations receiving federal funds through FBCI are not adequately separating the funds used for social services from those used for religious purposes. The GAO writes:

While officials in all 26 FBOs [faith-based organizations receiving federal grants] that [GAO] visited said that they understood that federal funds cannot be used for inherently religious activities, a few FBOs described activities that appeared to violate this safeguard.

The GAO study points out that approximately one-third of the faith-based organizations which receive federal funds and also offer voluntary religious activities "did not separate in time or location some religious activities from federally funded program services."

Finally, the report questions the effectiveness of Bush's FBCI and raises concerns about oversight, noting that "little information is available to assess progress toward another long-term goal of improving participant outcomes because outcome-based evaluations for many pilot programs have not begun."

Perhaps the scariest part of the GAO findings is that Jewish organizations have been issuing similar warnings about these violations since the program began. Two examples:

  • The Religious Action Center (RAC) noted in 2001 that faith-based federal funding proposals are "dangerous, divisive, and uncharitable."
  • The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) states on its website that "allowing pervasively sectarian institutions to take the place of the government as the provider of essential services in a community will likely result in the kind of coercion that the Establishment Clause was designed to prevent."

President Bush's Faith-Based Initiative has not been without controversy. The Administration has pushed through legislative language permitting religious organizations receiving funding to discriminate in their hiring practices based on the religion of applicants. Even more, Republicans have used faith-based funding to achieve political advantages.

The Bush Administration clearly holds the interests of the far right in higher regard than those of other religious backgrounds. This is completely unacceptable.