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Fact Sheet In Focus: Thanksgiving

Jim Towey
Jim Towey
November 26, 2003

Thanks for joining us. Jim Towey is running a bit late, but will be here soon.

Jim Towey
It is great to be back online and to have a chance to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to those participating today. We have so much to be thankful for - I know my old English teacher would want me to say that without ending in a preposition, but that truly my heart's sentiment. We are a blessed people.

Deena, from Virginia writes:
How successful do you think the faith-based initiatives will be in avoiding the numerous church-state challenges that will surely be brough to court?

Jim Towey
Yes. The President wants us to promote this initiative in a way that is Constitutional. He believes that faith-based organizations can maintain their identity and provide federally-funded services, and he believes the poor are the real beneficiaries of this initiative.

Bill, from St. Paul, Minnesota writes:
What are the President Bush's plans for helping faith-based organizations in the next year? I believe they are an important part of America. Keep up the great work

Jim Towey
Thanks for the encouragement, Bill. The President plans to continue with efforts on the regulatory front, and in Congress, and so expect a continued effort to remove administrative barriers that keep faith-based groups from being treated fairly, and to seek funding for programs that will help addicts, the homeless, the children of prisoners, and others in need.

Mark, from Santa Fe, New Mexico writes:
Why is it OK for our tax dollars to be used by "religions" that can openly discriminate against others? How "Christian" is that and don't you find it odd? In other words, our tax dollars will be used to deny employment and services. This used to be against the law didn't it?


Jim Towey
Good question Mark. First, the President has made it clear that no one is to be discriminated against when it comes to federally-funded services. So you can't take federal dollars and say, "We only serve Christians" here, or require people to participate in a worship activity in order to get a publicly-funded service. But he does support the right of faith-based groups to hire people that share their beliefs and mission. For example, Planned Parenthood has the right to discriminate in its hiring and it receives hundreds of millions of tax dollars. Why is it discrimination when the faith-based group does the same thing? The President feels that faith-based groups retain their civil right - which Congress gave them over three decades ago - to hire according to religious beliefs, and still take federal money. Go to our web site,, if you want more on this subject. To the President, it is a matter of fairness.

Jesse, from Paramount, CA writes:
Thank you for all your hard work Mr Towey. Our church has outlet for our community folks that are on bad times. We give food, clothing, etc.- all donated. Our director will not ask the Gov't for assistance because the Gov't always wants something back per se. Are there specific requirements for assistance?

Jim Towey
Good for you for being involved in your community helping others. If you want to learn more about our efforts and how to access federal funds, and what the rules are, go to our web site - - and get more info. God bless you for being so generous with your time.

Charlie, from Lafayette writes:
Who do you like in tomorrow's games?

Green Bay vs Detroit Lions Miami Dolphis vs Dallas Cowboys

Jim Towey
I'm a big Florida State fan, so my heart is set on this weekend's game with Florida, so I haven't followed the pro games starting tomorrow, but I think Miami looks ready for an upset.

Gordon, from Pawtucket writes:
Do you have a favorite Rolling Stones song?

Jim Towey
Angie and Ruby Tuesday. But some days in this job when Congress is blocking the initiative, I find myself humming, "I can't get no satisfaction!"

Tico, from Juarez writes:
Is there one thing that Mother Teresa taught you that really stands out?

Jim Towey
To love until it hurts. And to find time to pray. She always said that she was too busy loving others to judge them. She left the judging to God. And she prayed - she listened to God. This prayer made her happy and fulfilled in her life's work. She was a joy and blessing to be around.

Ray, from Tampa, FL writes:
How will Constitutional issues regarding government involvement with religion be dealt with? What kind of challenges are expected in the courts?

Jim Towey
Next week the US Supreme Court will hear a big case - Davey v. Locke - that will have big implications. A lot of faith-based groups get sued by the ACLU and other groups so the initiative will always find itself challenged in some way in courts. The President has been very careful to take steps that are Constitutional.

Rich, from Stone Mountain writes:
Blaine amendment has been big news here. How big of a problem in the country is the Blaine amendment?

Jim Towey
I personally think the Blaine amendments are vestiges of an era long ago of unmitigated anti-Catholicism - ask any historian and they will tell you that that is how they got in the Constitutions of so many states (when efforts to put them in the federal Constitution failed). I think they need to be looked at with a fresh look, and I think your Governor is showing a lot of courage by raising this issue.

Colby, from Centralia MO writes:
Do you feel that Pagan faith based groups should be given the same considerations as any other group that seeks aid?

Jim Towey
I haven't run into a pagan faith-based group yet, much less a pagan group that cares for the poor! Once you make it clear to any applicant that public money must go to public purposes and can't be used to promote ideology, the fringe groups lose interest. Helping the poor is tough work and only those with loving hearts seem drawn to it.

Tanya, from West Texas writes:
Do you have a Thanksgiving prayer you could share with us?

Jim Towey
I think Thanksgiving is a time to do an inventory of our lives and to thank God for our many blessings - faith, family, friends, and this great country we live in. I will thank God for the gift of the poor in my life - they have taught me so much and unleashed so much mercy in my life. I will thank God for the President - he was kind enough to hire me and allow me to work with these great people here. I could go on and on - and I will tomorrow with my family. God has blessed our country and each of us, and even in times of sorrow and difficulty, God is helping us grow to love and serve more. I love Thanksgiving - gratitude is a great thing.

Kerry, from Boston writes:
I am interested in how federal agencies are coordinating the FB initiative in the region? Are there forums that help us learn of opportunities all at once?

Jim Towey
We have White House conferences and they are good opportunities. Check our web site to see when the next one is. The United Way in Upper Massachusetts Bay gets a compassion capital fund grant to help FB groups, so check with them, too.

Miller, from Tennessee writes:
Have you ever witnessed a miracle?

Jim Towey
Yes. I have seen many lives transformed by love, particularly those who work with the poor. I have seen addicts recover, the homeless find hope in a hard world, and their caregivers discover that this poor man or poor woman actually has a gift to give them that they need to discover more fully what life is all about. So there are miracles every day - except when it comes to my receding hairline!

Tom, from Chicago writes:
What are your thoughts on the Locke v. Davey case?

Jim Towey
The President's Solicitor General has taken a position on the side of the student in that case, and I wholeheartedly agree. I think these Blaine Amendments are wrong and against First Amendment free exercise rights. It is amazing that in some states a person can't get a scholarship if they happen to want to study theology as a major. Ridiculous if you ask me.

Peter, from Baltimore writes:
What is your advice to those people who are alone on Thanksgiving and feeling lonely?

Jim Towey
I would urge you to call your local church or synagogue and find a way to reach out to them so that they aren't alone tomorrow. But for those with no one, I would say that many Americans are praying for them. It is a terrible thing to be lonely. We are all challenged to reach out to those who are shut-in or feeling unloved - sometimes those people are in our own families and on our own streets.

Steve, from Boulder writes:
What are you doing for Thanksgiving?

Jim Towey
Going to Vegas. Just kidding. I will be with my wife and five children. We will have a family meal and tomorrow we are all going to go together to a place where they serve meals to shut-ins, run by the Knights of Columbus, and spend some of our day there. Then some football, and God willing, some sleep!

Christopher, from Malibu, California writes:
Mr. Towey, The Constitution of the United States of America says that government shall not support a certain religion. Since that is the case, then how is it not supporting religion when it gives funds to religious groups for religious groups to carry out certain community service projects and things like that? In other words, can you explain the President's policy on faith - based and community issues and how it does not violate the 1st Amendment of our nation's Constitution?

Thank you very much, and may God bless.

Jim Towey
The President is opposed to funding religion. Public money goes for public purposes like job training, mentoring of children of prisoners, drug treatment. You can't preach on Uncle Sam's dollar. So he has made it clear that government is not seeking to fund religion. But he also believes that religious groups can be very effective in reaching out to the hurting and hopeless, because government can't love.

Wayne, from Plymouth, MN writes:
Good morning Mr. Towey. What time of year is the Presidential Prayer Breakfast? Do you have an idea who the President will have as guests for the next one? I do remember when he had Mary Jo Copeland, a local leader in helping the poor and homeless was there. Have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.

Jim Towey
There isn't a presidential prayer breakfast. There is a national prayer breakfast, but the President is an invitee to that, not an organizer. I know of Mary Jo Copeland and the President's high regard for what she has done for the unloved.

Steven, from Newbury writes:
According to the Rockefeller Institute, only 15 states have started administrative initiatives to get faith-based groups involved in providing social services.

Does this discourage you? Why the lack of interest?

Jim Towey
That report started in 1996 and gives an accurate "lay of the land" for when the President took office. But today, 20 governors have faith-based offices and the US Council of Mayors just opened one, and our conferences have overflow crowds - so there is a ton of interest in the faith-based initiative.

Rocky, from Iowa City writes:
What are your favorite five books?

Jim Towey
I have never thought of that, so I might forget one, but here goes: The Bible (duh), God in Search of Man by Abraham Heschel, Story of a Soul by Therese of Lisieux, My Experiments with the Truth by Gandhi, Mark Twain's Joan of Arc, and a collection of Woody Allen essays, where in a mock commencement address he said something like, "Today we stand at a crossroads. One path leads to utter destruction, the other to total obliteration. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly."

Ron, from NJ writes:
What do you say to your friends and family who may be worried or nervous or upset at the world situation -- ie: terrorism. How do you manage?

Jim Towey
God sees us and our needs and is calling us to love one another. The Lord is the Lord of history.

Randy, from Gary, Indiana writes:
Interesting article in US News last week (or TIME) about faith and healing. Do you believe that faith can assist in the healing process along with proper medical attention?

Jim Towey
Yes. I think God's healing hands are often doctors and nurses and nursing home aides, and also psychologist, therapists, teachers, parents etc.

Kathy, from Plains, Ohio writes:
Why do we need another pork spending government program like the faith base initiative? You have other agency who can work with state and local officials and churches.

Jim Towey
Because faith-based groups were prohibited, in some cases, from even being able to apply to provide a public service, regardless of how successful their program was. Our office's job is to do what the President asked: remove the barriers, make the playing field level, and try to give the poor access to the best programs available.

ichael, from Martin Luther king school writes:
whatis your cat name

Jim Towey
I don't have a cat. The President's cat's name is Willie, I think.

Rob, from Chicago writes:
Why can't my Muslim brothers and sisters participate as easily in this Administration's faith based initiatives? Most of the people I know who have any association with the Muslim faith are being harrassed, not helped or supported, at this time.

Jim Towey
Muslims are welcomed to participate in this initiative. The issue isn't whether a group believes in God or not but whether their program works. So the faith-based initiative isn't faith-specific. I think America needs to do all it can to avoid religious rivalry and competition -that is the beauty of our heritage of pluralism.

Jim, from North Carolina writes:
Why do you not consider your position to be illegal and an infringement on separation of church and state?

Jim Towey
Happy Thanksgiving to you, too! I'm just kidding. You have a right to ask that question. I suggest you read Philip Hamburger's new book on church and state - he makes the case very clearly that the secularist's view of the first amendment is at odds with what our founding fathers intended. There is the establishment clause, but there is also the free exercise clause. Our office was established to help the poor, not further religion.

Edwin, from Washington, D.C. writes:
How did you discover your purposecalling in life?

Jim Towey
That is an ongoing process. I try to seek God's will, and I don't look for some magical message in the sky - God speaks to us through each other, and I find, through the poor.

Alvaro, from Spain writes:
Happy Thanksgiving to Mr. President, Mrs. Bush, and everyone

Jim Towey
How nice of you - they are in Crawford, but Jimmy Orr here, the brains of this operation, will make sure your kind words get passed along.

Jim Towey
This has been great. I love answering these questions. Sorry I couldn't answer them all but there were way too many. May God bless each of you and may your Thanksgiving be a time of gratitude as we count our many blessings and reach out with grateful hearts to those in our midst who have less than we do, and lift them up. Happy Thanksgiving!