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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 of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives

February 28, 2005

Jim Towey

Hello to all of you. It is great to be back on "Ask the White House." I always find the questions unique and interesting and I'll do my best today to answer as many of them as I can (although I have been warned that a ton of questions have come in already). I am excited about 2005 and I know the President is going to talk about his plans for his second term with his important faith-based and community initiative.

Carly, from Tallahassee, Florida writes:
Mr. Towey, While I know the Faith-based and Community Initiatives Program is nation-wide, is there equal participation among the states or do some faith-based providers in particular geographical locations participate more than those in other locations?

Thank you, Carly

Jim Towey
Hi Carly! I'll always grab a question from Tallahassee because I lived there for almost 20 years and three of my children were born there! And my bald brother lives there, too. Good question to open with: there are 24 states that have governors who have opened faith-based and community offices (including Governor Bush, who is a friend and a real leader in helping these "armies of compassion" help those in need). Today the President met with all of the governors at the White House and he urged the other 26 to follow suit so that all barriers in America to fair competition are removed.

Letia, from CaliforniaArizona writes:
Is there a criteria regarding the size of a faith organization who will be considered for the grants? Are there stipulations regarding what faith based organizations can or cannot use the grant money for? Will there ever be any government involvement after a grant has been granted?

Jim Towey
The focus on grants is not whether a group believes in God or not but whether it has a good and effective program. So there is no "litmus" test but rather any applicant that can follow the rules and can show that they can deliver an effective service, can apply. Big groups and small groups apply. We make the rules clear that if you are a faith-based group, you can't use government money for "inherently religious activities" (those are fancy lawyer words for no preaching or proselytizing) and that they can't discriminate on the basis of religion in terms of whom they serve. They also have to follow the accounting rules so that the government knows how its money has been spent.

Nick, from Illinois writes:
Mr. Towey, I applaude the Presidents support of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and I think you and your staff have done a great job. Do you forsee this Congress continuing to fund this program in the next few years and into the next administration?

Jim Towey
Hi Nick. Thanks. Yes, I do. Congress has worked in a wonderful bipartisan way on most of the issues so far (compassion capital fund, mentoring of the children of prisoners, Access to Recovery drug treatment program - all initiatives the President started that Congress has funded). We hope the logjam in Congress on religious hiring rights can be broken this year, too.

Padma, from Troy, MI writes:
Is the National Day of Prayer only for those of Judeo-Christian faiths, or are all faith communities involved? What efforts will the President take to ensure participation by all faith communities in the United States?

Jim Towey
Hi. The National Day of Prayer is organized by Dr. and Mrs. Dobson, who are Christians, but last year, for example, at the White House there were people from all different faiths. The President loves the fact that in America you are free to worship God in any way you choose, or to not have any faith at all. He loves the "freedom of religion" and the right to freely exercise one's faith, and the right of the individual not to worship. That is pluralism at its finest.

James, from Atlanta, Georgia writes:
Is there a list of faith based organization that have received grants and is that list public? Where can it be found?

Jim Towey
Yes, in 2003, AP put the list on its web site. There will be a 2004 list on the agency's web sites in about a month. Go to to see what are the agencies that report grants.

Gerry, from Tahuya, WA writes:
Putting food on the table can be a struggle for a lot of families, but not all families that need help get it from food stamps or other federal programs. They instead rely on help from programs within the community like food banks, food pantries and "soup kitchens". What has the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives done, and what will they do in the future to support such community based programs? Thank you for your time.

Jim Towey
You're right. Some families do struggle, and two-thirds of the nation's food banks and pantries are run by faith-based groups. We try to let these groups know what Dept. of Agriculture programs are available, and how to work with America's Second Harvest and some of the big distribution organizations, and how to access technical assistance. Go to our web site to learn more.

Cheri, from NC writes:
What exactly is "Faith-Based Initiatives"? Thanks

Jim Towey
Hi Cheri. You may want to go look at our web site at, or come to one of the White House Conferences if we have one near you (admission is free, but you have to register). Good luck!

Rick, from Worcester, Mass. writes:
Considering that Faith-Based initiatives enrich the community and provide increased safety, why do you suppose so many oppose them?

Jim Towey
Hi Rick. Great question, and I don't have any idea why. I've been wondering that from the day I started here. Some people were worried that the "wall" between church and state was threatened by the President's initiative, but after 4 years, you can see that this didn't materialize and that many homeless, addicted, and hurting Americans have been helped by it.

Russell, from Arlington Texas writes:
Why can't we have a separation of church and State in this administration.

Jim Towey
Hi Russell. The President doesn't want the church and state to become one, I can promise you that. He doesn't want to see the government funding religion or favoring one faith over another. He also wants to make sure that government isn't discriminating against religion. When he took office, there were rules that banished faith-based groups from partnering with government if their program had "any religious influence." The President believes it is not a violation of the 1st Amendment to say to a group, "As long as you use government money for the job training program for which you are funded, it is ok that in your hallway is a religious symbol." He wants to restore balance to the public square and allow faith-based organizations and faith-filled people to be there like any one else.

Carl, from Okinawa, Japan writes:
Please defend the White House's stance that the whole idea of 'faith based' initiatives funded by the government doesn't violate the seperation of church and state.

Jim Towey
I just did in my answer to Russell. I think there are a lot of misunderstandings about what Thomas Jefferson meant in his letter when he wrote "a wall of separation between church and state" - and note, that phrase is not found anywhere in the Constitution. Jefferson attended worship services in a government building the following Sunday after he penned that phrase!

Daniel, from Lakeville, CT writes:
How are you going to keep church and state separate? That is what the consitution says. Thanks so much. I am a 14 year old very interested in politics and the like.

Jim Towey
Hi Daniel. I just answered two on the subject but wanted to encourage you - it is great to see young men like you taking an interest in politics and putting the interests of others over self.

Michael, from Powell, TN writes:
What does the President hope his faith-based plans will accomplish in his 2nd term?

Jim Towey
Tomorrow the President will talk in detail about his plans - one sure way to get in trouble with the boss here is to answer a question today that he is going to answer tomorrow! But I can tell you that he is going to continue to make his faith-based and community initiative a priority in this term. His compassion agenda is very important - so stay tuned for tomorrow's big speech!

Jim Towey
Wow - thirty minutes just flew by! It was great getting to so many good questions. And God willing, I'll be back soon to answer more questions. Let me close by encouraging you to find ways in your community to help those in need. Maybe it is to mentor a child, or visit someone who is lonely, or to help with foster children, or to visit hospitals or care for the environment. All of these selfless acts can strengthen America from within and add to our country's greatness, and best of all, they deepen your experiences in life and make you more fully alive. Mother Teresa used to say, "It isn't how much you do, but how much love you put into the doing." So good luck, and if you get a chance, pray for the President, Mrs. Bush, his family, and all of us here.

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