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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
Director, Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives
June 22, 2004

Jim Towey
Great to be with you during a week when President Bush is taking his compassion agenda to the heartland! Yesterday he was in Cincinnati talking about marriage and welfare reform and tomorrow he will be discussing his efforts to address the AIDS epidemic - both at home and abroad. So this month started off with the White House National Faith Based and Community Initiatives Conference in Washington where President Bush gave one of his best speeches ever (ok, I'm biased) and over 1500 people gathered to learn more about helping the poor, and this week his compassion initiative continues. Glad to answer some questions.

Walker, from Sacramento writes:
How did you get to meet Mother Teresea, and why did she choose you to be her counsel? What places did you get to go with her? What was it like working with her?

Jim Towey
Hi Walker. I was very blessed to meet Mother Teresa in 1985. I started helping her with legal work shortly after that - there was a woman, Dianne Landi, who also helped Mother Teresa on legal matters, and so we split the work up. I helped on the government relations/immigration side, and I protected the use of Mother Teresa's name. Dianne handled wills and estates and things like that. I was lucky enough to travel with Mother to a number of places in the US and Mexico, and to be with her in Calcutta. I have a real debt to God for the gift of Mother Teresa in my life, and I am paying this debt off. If you want to learn more about Mother, rent Jan and Ann Petrie's movie, Mother Teresa, which is available at most video rental places. It is not possible to describe working with her - she was the loveliest soul I have ever met (well, except my wife, of course).

LOUIS, from CHICAGO,IL writes:

How strong does the president feel about the faith based community helping the community children who's parents are incarcerated? And Why?

Jim Towey
This is one of his primary concerns -the 2 million children of prisoners. It isn't their fault that they have a mom or dad in jail. I went with the President to Philadelphia to visit a program - Amachi - that helps mentor and befriend these kids and place good adult role models in their lives. The mayor told the President that two-thirds of the kids in the juvenile justice system have a mom or dad in the corrections system. So it is easy to see why we need to intervene in these kids lives, and President Bush has successfully gotten $60 million from Congress to fund programs helping these wonderful kids.

Scott, from Rainsville, Alabama writes:
What's your favorite movie? I will always maintain that Caddyshack is the epitome of cinematic perfection.

"Cinderella boy, outta nowhere, a former greenskeeper now about to become the master's champion."


Jim Towey
I loved the scene in Caddyshack when Rodney Dangerfield was buying things in the pro shop - remember that?

My favorite movie is Deer Hunter. Had a lasting impact on me.

Jennifer, from Apollo Beach writes:
Which of your programs have seen the most success?

Jim Towey
The Compassion Capital Fund has touched a lot of people's lives. Hundreds of faith-based and community groups have received help to expand their capacity to touch even more lives. The mentoring of the children of prisoners program I just wrote about is another, and we are excited that 45 governors have sent in formal applications to receive some of the $100 million in money for drug treatment programs that will use vouchers so that faith-based organizations and others can help more addicts recover. We are hoping that Congress will fund President Bush's prisoner re-entry program - that will help over 10,000 inmates returning to society with job training and housing, so that these inmates contribute to society instead of tearing it down.

Keith, from Chicago writes:
Can you comment on the recent '60 Minutes' story that indicated that, while comprehensive records are not kept, not a single non-Christian organization received an award, despite several applications? Can you quantify the percentage of non-Christian applications and awards vs. the Christian appliactions and awards? What is your Office's offical stance regarding non-Christian faith based organizations?

Jim Towey
Keith, I think you are referring to a PBS program called Frontline that made that allegation (I am told - I didn't watch it). It is simply, categorically untrue. The program referred to the Compassion Capital Fund. Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist groups have received Compassion Capital Fund dollars. Some grantees, like the United Way of Upper Massachusetts Bay and Clemson University and the University of Hawaii also received CCF grants, and I don't think those are Christian organizations. We don't collect data on which groups are Christian, Jewish, etc. and I don't think it would be appropriate to do that. Our Office seeks to have a level playing field where the best application -secular or sacred- wins. We shouldn't favor any faith, or grant money for groups to preach. President Bush has made that clear.

Hasan, from Boulder, CO writes:
God bless you all. My spiritual adviser recently attended the Faith Based and Community Initiatives Conference on the 1st and I heard all great things.

As a Muslim in this country I have had to deal with many peoples, especially in my age group(19), discrimination. I feel this has a lot to do with lack of education in our school systems on religous beliefs. Most kids I talk to no nothing about Islam other than the image that 'they're all terrorists'. Don't you think it's wise to teach standard religous beliefs in school, especially in times like these? What could I do to educate more people about these issues?

Thank you for taking my question, Hasan

Jim Towey
Hi Hasan. I think you make an important point that we should teach respect and tolerance for all faiths. The greatness of America is found in our religious pluralism, and how Americans are free to worship as they wish or not worship at all. It is important that America maintains its strong respect for all faiths so that we don't see our country divided along lines of religious rivalry. Christians, Muslims and Jews, and other faiths, work well together, and are united in a focus toward reaching out to those in need in our society.

Jose, from Grand Rapids, Michigan writes:
How much government money goes to charities?

Jim Towey
I don't know. The government doesn't collect that data very well. Of the $72 billion or so in social service grant dollars, over half of that is administered at the state and local levels, and they don't track which categories of grant recipients get funded. We asked the question at the federal level, and in the category of competitive, non-formula grants (basically, discretionary grants), faith-based groups received over $1.1 billion. But many secular charities received funds, too. The President is trying to collect better data to answer your question - the government has not asked these questions before.

Charlie, from Centennial, CO writes:
My church has tents to put out so we can help people (the general public) with common problems, such as regarding relationships, communication, getting off drugs, handling children. Since this is to help the community, is there a way to apply for funding so I can purchase furniture, supplies, and pay for ongoing miscellaneous expenses for this project?

Jim Towey
Visit our web site at, or better yet, if you can attend one of our regional conferences, that would be great (our web site tells you where and when). We had one in Denver but I guess you missed it.

Cliff, from Brimfield, Ohio writes:
Director Towey When you ask someone about Faith Based Initiatives. They look at you and think its some kind of Church thing. You know one of the Faith, Hope and Charity things. And I'm not sure I have a real good handle on it myself. Could You Please sum it up in a few words? As to what Faith Based Initiatives Programs really amounts and what it hopes to accomplish? I'm sure its more than a simple. Do we spend more or less. But one of what do we get in return for our spending. Many programs seem to be built on money and when the money goes away so does the program.

Jim Towey
You're right - the faith-based initiative has been, at times, badly misunderstood. President Bush wants the federal government to partner with the best provider of social services - secular or sacred. And in the competition for these dollars, he wants to end discrimination against faith-based groups. For years, these groups were either prohibited from applying or discouraged from applying to provide public services. It isn't about funding religion - President Bush does not want government to fund religion. It is about getting results: addicts in recovery, the homeless off the street and into stable lives, and the children of prisoners in mentoring programs where they are loved and educated.

patrick, from ichigan writes:
Why has the Faith Based Initiative only provided funding for Christian organizations -- none for Jewish or Muslim organizations.

Jim Towey
It is not true. Not true. Not true. I am sorry that PBS put out information that was not true. Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and other faiths have received Federal faith-based dollars, as have countless secular non-profits. In fact, and write this down, the great majority of Federal social service dollars do NOT go to faith-based organizations -they go to secular non-profits and governmental agencies. Hope this clears things up. I hope PBS admits its mistake some day, but I doubt they will.

Debra, from Las Vegas writes:
Jim Coming from the divorce capital of the world, I certainly understand marriages more than most people. I've been married three times. I'm thrilled that I got a divorce all three of those times. They were all idiots.

My question to you is, why should the federal government intervene in our lives and try to force us to stay married? I'm about to get married again and I hope this one will work. If not, I'll boot him too.

My point is, it is MY decision to get married. And it is my decision to get divorced. The last thing we need to do is go back to the 1800s where you couldn't get divorced. If that happens, why don't we just get rid of cars too and ride around on donkeys?

Jim Towey
Good luck with number four, Debra.

The reason President Bush speaks in support of marriage is because the surest route to poverty for children is in single-parent homes. Two parent families have the best to offer the children of our country, and that is why the President promotes it. I was raised pretty much by my mom and my parents divorced, and so I am not stigmatizing anyone that gets a divorce. The statistics speak for themselves and the President's initiative is about fighting poverty.

Thomas, from Cornville, Maine writes:
Are you really seeing much progress in the prisoner program the President is pushing? The reason I ask is that my brother is in jail and will be released (hopefully, if he doesn't screw up again) in early 2006. And it would be nice for him to get a chance when he exits jail.


Jim Towey
Over 600,000 Americans will leave prison this year, and statistics show that within three years, two-thirds will have been rearrested. That is why President Bush announced his prisoner re-entry program - he mentioned it yesterday in Cincinnati. Unfortunately, even if it gets funded by Congress, there won't be money hitting the streets until, best guess, early 2005. I hope things turn out for your brother.

Tia, from Carrabelle, Florida writes:
Abstinence education is a nice thought, but I don't know ANY guys who want to stay abstinent. You should come to my high school sometime.

Jim Towey
That was funny - thanks for the laugh. But I know you are being serious, too. The President supports abstinence education because it is the surest way to avoid teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, among other reasons. A recent study showed that a majority of teens wished they had postponed sexual activity until they were older, and I think this education campaign would help them do that - and many convince some of those boys at your high school!

Troy, from South Haven writes:
I know you lived in Florida for some time, so I think this is a good question for you. A team from Florida won the Stanley Cup this year. Do you think this is a sign that Armaggedon is close at hand?

Jim Towey
Another good laugh! Only when the Florida Gators win a national championship will it be time to move underground (ok, I'm a Seminoles fan!).

Joseph, from Bethlehem, TX writes:
Why are you so down on PBS ? Your words in this chat might signal to some an attack on the services they provide. Thank you for taking my question.

Jim Towey
I'm not. I love PBS. I love the Newshour and other programs that it provides. My beef is with the one Frontline program they aired that contained misleading information, that's all.

Jim Towey
Well, time's up again! It was great being on with you all and sorry I couldn't answer all of the great questions sent my way (thanks to those who sent in questions, and I hope to get you next time I am on). Have a great week, and if you get a chance, volunteer at a faith-based or community program near you that helps the poor. You will be doing something great to strengthen America from within by unleashing compassion in those communities. I know President Bush appreciates the millions of volunteers who do this difficult work in food pantries, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters, and other places where those in need turn. God bless you all. Jim

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