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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration Officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Jim Towey
Jim Towey
December 23, 2003

Jim Towey
Good morning! I am thrilled to be back on-line to answer your questions. This is a wonderful time of the year. The President and Mrs. Bush hosted a Hanukkah reception last night, and earlier in the month, was hosting Christmas receptions and welcoming thousands of guests to the White House. So these days have been very special at the White House and in our Office and I am glad to be back with you and answer as many questions as I can.

Susan, from Minneapolis writes:
how do you plan to spend your holiday? any suggestion for families across America?

Jim Towey
I will be spending time with family and hopefully relaxing and praying and enjoying this great season. Christmas is a very blessed time in our home. We will also be spending time with strangers who could use some cheer, and I know President Bush has encouraged Americans to reach out to the lonely and hurting. Yesterday, he and Mrs. Bush went to a program in Alexandria, VA that gives gifts to the children of prisoners. So I think their example is a good one - to think of others as well as our own families during this great season.

Barb, from Florida writes:
Jim what is it like to work for president bush? How long have you worked for the president? have a happy 2004.

Jim Towey
I love working for President Bush. I know you figure someone is going to say something nice about his boss, but it is the honest to God truth. I believe in what he is trying to accomplish with the faith-based initiative and it is a privilege to work for him and with the good folks he has assembled here at the White House. I have worked here since February 2002. It is hard work, but very meaningful, and hopefully it will make a big difference in the lives of those in need.

Tina writes:
what is the administration doing to counter the worldwide perception that the U.S. only embraces christianity -- instead of all kinds of religions that also want world peace?

Jim Towey
President Bush seeks to reach out to all faiths, and has. Yesterday, for example, he met with a group of Jewish leaders. He has frequently met with Muslims and other faiths as well. He also meets with groups of no particular faith. America is respected throughout the world for its pluralism and how we have the freedom to exercise our own faith, all the while respecting those with different views on matters of religion.

Brittany, from Palm Coast, FL writes:
Do you have a message for the world this holiday season? Happy Holidays to President Bush, his staff and the White House

Jim Towey
Thanks, Brittany! I think the President has traditionally offered both Hanukkah and Christmas greetings around this time of year, and you may want to check the White House web site for this. I know that I will be praying for peace, and for our soldiers who sacrifice so generously in defense of our country and in the cause of peace. I will be praying especially for those families that have lost a loved one in service to our country because I know that the holiday season can also be a time of remembrance.

Joel, from New York writes:
Small grass roots non-profit organization, especially those that have a faith based component, would benefit from the technical assistance of a larger more organized charitable organization. For example, in New York's Jewish community that exists with local community councils and our citywide umbrella organization, which handles payroll, contracts, information technology, personnel and things like that. We are able to concentrate on delivery of services to our clients. Wouldn't that be a good national model for smaller faith and community based groups?

Jim Towey
I agree Joel, and so does President Bush. That is why he started the Compassion Capital Fund (CCF) - over $60 million has been given out to intermediary organizations to provide technical assistance to the grass roots groups that serve so well in America. Go to if you want to know more about CCF.

Bill, from Michigan writes:
Several weeks ago in this forum you indicated that you were not familiar with Pagan faith-based organizations. Your comments elicited quite a bit of response from the Pagan community, and a rash of news articles, including some which detailed the growth of neo-Pagan religous groups in America. As a result of the information brought forward, do you feel you now have a better appreciation and understanding of the Pagan faith communities and churches in this country?

Jim Towey
I appreciate your question. I meant no ill will toward any individual or group in my response to the question I was asked the last time I was on-line. People with loving hearts can come from many different faiths and backgrounds, and indeed, many who volunteer to help others or donate money to charities may not be motivated by faith at all. That is the beauty of our country and the richness of pluralism. President Bush's faith-based initiative seeks to mobilize armies of compassion so that the homeless are housed, the addicted are treated, the hungry are fed, and others in need are assisted. While there has been much progress made in America in alleviating poverty and loneliness, much remains to be done, and I remain committed to this effort.

Ray, from Tampa, Florida writes:
How is this program managed to ensure that resources are directed to the areas of most critical need? What are these priorities?

Jim Towey
Good question Ray. The federal government spends billions of dollars on social service programs that range from job training to housing assistance to homeless shelters and to countless other efforts. Congress and the President set the priorities through the budget and spending bills they pass. The agencies that administer these federal programs are required to oversee the grants to make sure that the money is spent well and goes toward the intended public purposes. This oversight is critical, because President Bush has stressed that public money must go to public purposes, and that faith-based organizations can not use this money to promote religious belief. We feel confident that safeguards are in place in the federal grants process to protect this important interest.

Martin, from Baton Rouge writes:
What would you say was the most important thing you learned from Mother Terese? Also was there anything you ever heard her say that you still can remember today?

Jim Towey
She had, and continues to have, a huge influence on my life. I had the joy of knowing her for 12 years and on occasion, even traveling with her. She was so full of joy. She didn't judge people - she said when you judge people, you have no time to love them. She was true to her convictions and she fought against moral relativism - she really had a compass and kept her eye on heaven. She found time to pray. She used to say, "If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy." That sounds like good advice this time of year, doesn't it?

John, from Solana Beach, California writes:
No question. Please tell anyone you run into in the White House that they are in our daily prayers. You all mean so much to us.


John Neubauer

Jim Towey
Thanks John. I'll pass it along! I know the President greatly appreciates the prayers of the American people, and so do all of us privileged to work here.

Richard, from North Bend, Oregon writes:
Will this faith-based program involve government grants or other support, and if so, is that not a coflict with the intended concept of faith-based organizationsinstitutions cooperating with the federal government in this program?

Jim Towey
Good question Richard. The President has stressed that the faith-based initiative is not about promoting religion but rather improving results - that addicts have access to the best programs so that the likelihood of recovery increases, for example. So the issue isn't whether an organization believes in God or not but whether their programs work. The First Amendment cases permit faith-based groups to receive money to provide public services, and in fact, such groups have done this throughout our history. No public money is to go to proselytizing (I hope I spelled that right) and we make that clear. But we also don't disqualify an organization from providing a job training program, for example, just because they have it in the church hall. Believe it or not, when President Bush came to office, there were federal rules that specifically excluded faith-based groups from competing to provide secular services. That is unfair, and in some neighborhoods with high concentrations of needy people, the only social service providers in those communities are operated by faith-based organizations. That is why the President wants "equal treatment" for these groups.

Jeff, from Frederick, MD writes:
Do you agree that it's a serious mistake for the government to fund faith-based initiatives? Firt of all, there's no accountability. Governemnt agencies and employees are accountable for how the money is spent, whereas faith based organization are not. Secondly, such funding erodes the separation between church and state, which has helped to foster religious freedom and tolerance in this country for over two centuries. Or are we to head down the trail blazed by Iran?

Jim Towey
Jeff, I guess we just disagree. I don't think it is a mistake for government to partner with faith-based organizations to try to help the homeless, the addicted, and others. I have spent a good bit of my life around the homeless and they are craving relationship and connection and a sense that their life matters, and as President Bush has put it, "Government can't love." So as long as safeguards are in place to ensure that public money goes to public purposes and that no one preaches on Uncle Sam's dollar, we should welcome faith-based groups in the public square and if they have an effective program, help fund it. I think you are right that religious tolerance is very important. We also should be tolerant of faith-based groups and their rights, and as I mentioned earlier, some of the rules discriminated against faith-based groups. That is why the President wants a level playing field for all applicants for grants.

Heather, from New Jersey writes:
Hello Mr.Towey. I am 15 years old and I am being homeschooled. I was wondering what your job consists of. I am tring to get more involved with my country. Thank you very much and Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones

Jim Towey
Good for you Heather to be thinking of how you can do more to help others and strengthen America from within. I know the President greatly appreciates young people like you who start at an early age in volunteering. Go to the USA Freedom Corps web site at the White House site and you will find a bunch of opportunities. Thanks for your kind wishes, and good luck. You will never regret helping others in need. They have a gift to give you, too, because you will grow and find meaning in life that you never knew existed. God bless you Heather. Hope these days are filled with cheer and many blessings. I hope that just because you are homeschooled doesn't mean you don't get any days of vacation! Sounds like you have earned a break! Good luck with your studies!

Jim Towey
Thank you for all the questions! Wow, there were so many and I couldn't get to more than a dozen or two. I greatly appreciate your interest and all the kind wishes expressed in the emails. These days in December are wonderful days to be thinking of others, particularly those who are lonely, and also days to reach out to people in our families and communities whom we love, so take full advantage of that! God bless each of you, and thanks again for joining in this session of Ask the White House!