The Bush Faith-Based Initiative: Why It Failed

Robert Woodson is one of the godfathers of the Bush Administration’s faith-based initiative. As president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, Woodson has been a great proponent of tenant-management and tenant-ownership of inner-city public housing; his group mediates gang disputes and, perhaps more importantly, he mediates discussions of white conservatives and black activists, helping them understand exactly how liberal social service programs shortchange the poor.

But yesterday at a Heritage Foundation forum celebrating the 30th anniversary of the publication of the Richard John Neuhaus/Peter Berger book on the importance of mediating structures to a healthy civil society, Woodson took after the Bush Administration. He concluded his remarks by looking at how it had implemented the concept of mediating structures in its public policy, and he concluded that it made a “fundamental mistake” in promoting government grants to faith-based social services. Woodson favors giving taxpayers charitable tax credits for their individual contributions to charities, and he had expected Bush to agree with him based on his experience as governor of Texas. But the Administration “walked away” from the tax credit proposal introduced by Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN).

Woodson says tax credits would let citizens choose their charity and get government rules and regulations out of the way. But a grants program raises all the difficult questions of church-state interference that not only energizes litigious ACLU civil libertarians but that dismays religious charities forced to separate their faith mission from their social service.

Why did they do it? Woodson said the Administration made the mistake of “using the mediating structures of the faith-based office as another tool in their political arsenal to retain political power.” Silence followed by nervous laughter from the audience. View the event. Start at 1:20:00.

Woodson continues during Q&As at 1:50:00 and he is seconded by Don Eberly, former deputy assistant to the President for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, who says the grantsmaking approach selected by the Bush Administration after much debate was the “least desirable.”

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