Tue, Jan 04, 2005 - Page 7 News List

US government gave faith-based groups US$1 billion


The government gave more than US$1 billion in 2003 to organizations it considers "faith-based," with some going to programs where prayer and spiritual guidance are central and some to organizations that do not consider themselves religious at all.

Many of these groups have entirely secular missions and some organizations were surprised to find their names on a list of faith-based groups provided by the White House.

White House officials said the list included groups which had identified themselves as faith-based and groups which officials thought religious based on their names.

Other grant recipients are religious, offering social service programs that the government may have deemed too religious to receive money before President Bush took office.

Visitors to TMM Family Services in Tucson, Arizona, which received US$25,000 for housing counseling, are greeted by a picture of Jesus and quotes from the Bible.

Don Strauch, an ordained minister and executive director of the group said, "Just because we take government money doesn't mean we back down on that philosophy."

All told, faith-based organizations were awarded US$1.17 billion in 2003. That is about 8 percent of the US$14.5 billion spent on social programs that qualify for faith-based grants in five federal departments. White House officials expect the total to grow.

The list of 2003 grant recipients provided to the press is the first detailed tally of the dollars behind this "faith-based initiative."

Elected with strong support of religious conservatives, Bush came to office promising to open government's checkbook to religious groups that provide social services. Often, Bush claims, religious groups do a better job serving the poor.

Civil libertarians fear the government will wind up paying for worship, eroding the constitutional separation between church and state.

In the past, government has refrained from giving money directly to religious groups, but has required that they set up independent, secular organizations to get taxpayer dollars. Bush tried to get Congress to change that. Congress refused, so he unilaterally put many of his changes into effect.

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