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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
September 12, 2003

Jim Towey
Hi. My name is Jim Towey. President Bush appointed me 19 months ago to lead his office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. This office hopes to help the homeless, the children of prisoners, the addicted and others have access to the best programs in America, and to help some of our country's "Armies of Compassion" work in partnership in programs that can help these people maintain their dignity. The President likes me out of Washington and on the road seeing "compassion in action." Wednesday I was in Philadelphia looking at People4People's program to help the unemployed, and today I meet up with the President in Houston. Fun job!

Elijah, from Greenville, SC writes:
What is the present position of your office in relation to the voucher program which would allow citizens to choose private faith-based educational avenues rather than traditional public education? Are you involved in this process at all? Is it on the back burner? What current things are going on in your office that the American people would be directly concerned about? What does your office do?

Jim Towey
Wow, that's a lot of good questions. We don't get involved in the education issues here, but we do support programs for drug addicts that would let them use vouchers at faith-based treatment programs. The President has asked Congress for $200 million for this program - we like vouchers because it allows addicts to "own" their recovery by choosing effective providers - even if those programs are faith-saturated - to seek help in recovery. Our office is involved in helping small, faith-based and community groups get grants to help the poor, and we have many conferences in America to help these organizations. Visit our web site at and you'll see what we're up to these days.

Joey, from Baltimore writes:
Do you believe, as I do, that faith can not be proven but must only be accepted? And that people of faith, even if their individual beliefs differ greatly, people of faith have more in common with each other than with people who do not have any faith? Thank you.

Jim Towey
Yes, I think faith does involve doubt, otherwise you wouldn't need faith. But I am not White House chaplain or resident theologian - that's just my own personal view of faith and of the reality of the "unseen world." My life depends on faith. I have enjoyed working with Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and many others, as well as humanitarians who do much good for the poor. That is the greatness of America and pluralism - that in our country we are free to have faith or not have faith, and that we can work together in spite of these differences for the common good. That is why religious rivalry is so dangerous and why President Bush has been so careful to reach out to people of all faiths - or none at all.

Madeline, from Charlottesville, VA writes:
I am a missionary with International Students, Inc. The organization is 50 years old, with approximately 200 on staff, based at major universities in our country.

Our major focus is teaching the gospel through winning friendships and caring for the needs of international students - through which far more than l00 countries are involved. These students, most of them, return to their countries to be political, industry, social and business leaders. In the past 50 years we have seen approximately 34,000 students make a faith decision to follow the Scriptures and place a personal faith in the Son of God.

We also care for these students via teaching English as a second language, helping them drive, giving meals weekly, helping with studies, i.e. writing of papers, help in various subjects, supplying physical needs, such as furniture, computers, clothes, etc.

This past SAT we had our 7th Annual Picnic at our home, where we fed more than 75. Every SAT pm we have a dinner for internationals, along with classes on culture, English and Bible.

From your view point, is there an open door whereby we can receive funding for any part of the work we are doing?

Gratefully submitted, Madeline, working at the University of Virginia.

Jim Towey
Well first, I think it is wonderful that you are doing so much to help others - even opening the doors of your own home to people from other countries. You surely are living your faith. Government doesn't fund faith, and shouldn't, and so there aren't Federal programs that use tax dollars to proselytize (hope I spelled that right). But programs that educate foreign students? I don't know. Check out the Agency for International Development web site and ask our Faith-based Center director, Mike Magan, if he knows of any.

Marjie, from Berlin, Ohio writes:
Has there always been an Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives? I don't recall hearing of this before. What would you say is your job description and the goal of this office that you serve?

Jim Towey
You're right, Marjie. President Bush was the first to open such an office, and he did it the first week of his presidency because he believes that in a country with so much affluence, that there are still pockets of despair and that we must respond to the needs of these people with compassion. My job description is to do what the President wants - to reach out to faith-based and community organizations, remove barriers that prevent them from partnering with government, and ultimately, to help the poor in need in America.

Kraig, from Brandon, FL writes:
Dear Mr. Towey: How can citizens learn more about this important initiative in their communities? Does each state have a State Coordinator?

Jim Towey
Your governor, Governor Jeb Bush, has a faith-based office. You can call his office at 850 488-2272 and find out what his office is doing. Governor Bush is very committed to pursuing opportunities that provide the poor with options and access to the best programs, and his state is one of the nation's leaders in making sure faith-based and grassroots groups get a fair shake in the grant making process. He has a web site - - and I think it will direct you to what's up in Florida (my former home state! Go Seminoles!)

Scott, from Blenheim,New Zealand writes:
How does the White House ensure separation of Church and State. Thank you for your time Scott

Jim Towey
President Bush realizes that the Establishment Clause forbids governmental support of religion, and also that there is a free-exercise clause that ensures religious liberty. It is a delicate balance, and the President seeks to pursue his initiative in a way that is constitutional. As you know, the phrase "wall between Church and State" doesn't exist in the Constitution. But it is a way of explaining the delicate balance embodied in the First Amendment. We are careful to respect this balance.

Soheil, from Clifton, New Jersey writes:
What relationship do you see between the Faith-Based Initiative and the cause of World Peace? Thank you.

Jim Towey
Well Soheil, for there to be peace there has to be justice, and justice begins in our communities and in helping fellow Americans in need maintain their human dignity and be allowed to pursue their dreams just like all of us. President Bush repeatedly has talked about how the faith-based initiative helps strengthen America from within. I'll bet he says that tonight in Houston in his speech! I worked 12 years for Mother Teresa of Calcutta and watched how she spread peace by loving and giving until it hurt. She was a real peacemaker!

Stefania, from Rome, Italy writes:
Ciao. Can Georgie speak Italian? If not, then I think he should learn! I LOVE you Dubbya! Ti amo moltissimo.

Jim Towey
I don't think he speaks Italian, but I am glad you like the President. He loves Italy, too!

Bart, from Los Angeles writes:
The Supreme Court uses the three-pronged Lemon test to judge whether a government program violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment: 1 the program must have a secular purpose and 2 the program can neither advance nor inhibit relgion and 3 the program cannot produce excessive entanglement between the government and a religious body Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 1971. I can see how your proposed faith-based initiatives satisfy prongs 1 and 2. I can't see how these government faith-based initiatives can avoid the excessive entanglement that prong 3 forbids and especially so given the number and variety of faiths that may participate in your programs. How can you ensure that there will not be such entanglement?

Jim Towey
You sound like you know the law here well - I am a lawyer, but not a very good one! But we do have brilliant lawyers here at the White House who looks at the Lemon test you describe, as well as other important Supreme Court cases, in making sure that our programs remain within the bounds of constitutional law. When government money is given to a faith-based organization, it must be used for the public purpose (i.e. job training funds must go to job training, not to buying choir robes). The government carefully monitors its grants so that public money goes to permissible uses, and that grantees follow the rules. The President thinks these partnerships can work, and Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, Jewish Federations and others have received public money for years without this entanglement you cite.

donnie, from hattiesburg writes:
Is this Office trying to deregulate government involvement in charity? Hasn't Federal spending decreased on nationwide initiatives like Americorps and Project Lighthouse? Does this office feel the slack is going to be shored up by local organizations, even if those organizations don't have any money?

Jim Towey
The Faith-based Initiative is seeking to treat faith-based groups equally - not to favor them, but to welcome them to the table with other groups. President Bush says, "The question isn't whether your organization believes in God or not, but whether your program works." The President is fighting for Americorps money and put a big increase in his budget for it - he hopes Congress follows his lead.

Scott, from McLean, Virginia writes:
Can you please describe some of the legislative actions that you think would be helpful in removing barriers that prevent faith-based organizations from partnering with government? Thank you.

Jim Towey
When President Bush came to office, he found regulations at the Department of Housing and Urban development FORBIDDING faith-based organizations from providing even secular services. He would like to see the law changed so that these groups would be treated equally, and funds would go to the best program. He also wants Congress to protect the civil rights of religious organizations so that they can hire people who support their organization's mission and vision - a right these groups have had for over 30 years. Some in Congress say that these groups lose this right if they take federal money, and President Bush disagrees. The fact is, President Clinton was the first to support this hiring right, and so President Bush is continuing to fight to protect the religious liberty of these organizations. Remember, they can't preach with public money, or discriminate in how they serve - so you have to serve people regardless of their faith, if they come through the door and you get federal money. Those are the rules and the President will make sure they are followed.

Liz, from DC writes:
What are your thoughts on Civil Disobedience?

Jim Towey
Liz, I have five kids at home ten and under and so I am learning a lot about that subject. :)

nan, from kansas writes:
I am neither a Republican nor a terribly 'religious' person, although I am deeply spiritual, but I thank God for the gift He has given the USA in President George W. Bush. Not since I was a young naive child have I witnessed such sincerity, such wisdom, such humanity from the White House as we have seen in The Two Georges. And W. just continues to impress me more and more every day. Graceful strength. Determined kindness. Unwavering conviction. I think I'll change my party affiliation for the first time in 30 years. George Bush - you are my hero!

Jim Towey
Well, Nan, I'll pass along your kind words. He is a great man to work for and he bears the responsibilities of his office with grace and strength. It is a tough job. Keep praying for him, and mention all of us here, too, ok?

Sally, from Oro Valley, AZ writes:
In light of the recent study by the Commission on Children At Risk that reveals meeting children's needs for enduring attachments and for moral and spiritual meaning is the best way to ensure their healthy development, do you sense a shift in the willingness of our American culture to recognize the need for faith based programs aimed at our children's spiritual needs?

Jim Towey
I do. I think people realize that behind the material poverty that we are fighting is a spiritual poverty - the feeling that many people have that they are unloved, unwanted, unwelcome. They have great human dignity. President Bush says that government can't love, and he is so right. That is why he believes in the power of faith-based and community groups to unleash compassion in our country that will combat both the material and spiritual poverty.

William, from Washington, DC writes:
Hello: What was it like working with Mother Teresa? Was she as kind behind the scenes as legend makes her out to be? Thanks!

Jim Towey
My life peaked with I met her (except when I got married, of course). She was so lovely and great and humble and joyful and giving. I miss her. She was incredible. Rent the movie the Petrie sisters made on Mother Teresa and you'll see why she is such a great soul.

Jim Towey
Well, my friends, this was fun but our time is up. Wish I could have gotten to all of the questions. God bless you all, and if you are ever at a White House Conference on the Faith-Based Initiative, come up and introduce yourself, ok?

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