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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 22, 2001
Remarks by the President to the National Leadership of the Hispanic Faith-Based Organizations
Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building
2:40 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, all. I now know why he's a Baptist preacher. (Laughter.)
Thank you, Luis, and thank you, Jesse, and thank you all for coming. Before I say a few remarks, I want to introduce some folks. I appreciate so very much the members from the United States Congress who are here: Ileana and Lincoln and Henry from the great state of Texas. Thank you so much for being here. It's a sign of unity that you're here, and I look forward to working with you. (Applause.)
I reached into Philadelphia to ask a man to run the office of the Faith-Based Initiative. Fortunately, John Dilulio, who is one of the advanced thinkers about how to help people, how the nation should eradicate poverty, has joined my staff. What we're about to talk about is an incredibly serious effort to make sure that the American promise extends its reach in every neighborhood. And John is leading the office and for that I am most grateful, John. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
And Lisa Trevino Cummins is helping John, as well. This is an important part of my administration. Because I want the great hope of America to be existent in every household in our country. I worry about a society that could become divided between those who have and those who don't. I'm concerned about the fact that certain children are being left behind in America.
My vision includes everybody. It's described as compassionate conservatism, but I emphasize the compassion. The problem is government is not a very compassionate organization. We can fund -- and we should -- budgets, there is a lot of talk about budgets. We've submitted budgets that increase spending on social services. We've got what's called a compassion fund, that matches -- a $500, a million-dollar fund that will encourage faith-based initiatives throughout the country.
But the dilemma and the problem in the past has been that somewhere along the line everybody thought government could make people love one another. And that's not the way it works. And if part of the future of the country is to love a neighbor like you would like to be loved yourself, it seems to follow then our government must welcome, not discriminate against, faith-based organizations who are providing that. (Applause.)
I hope the Congress does not get caught up in the stale, old process argument of the legalisms involved with encouraging organizations of faith to help people in need. Because as Louise mentioned, there is precedent. We fund religious hospitals through Medicare and Medicaid. There is scholarship money for children to use at religious institutions.
Why does it not follow, I asked the Congress and those folks elected, that we not allow faith-based programs to compete for taxpayers' money if the services they provide are necessary and the results are positive? The argument is, let us focus on the process. We're saying, let us focus on the results. (Applause.)
The way I like to put it -- I gave a speech at Notre Dame last Sunday, it was a speech that said, it started with talking about President Lyndon Johnson's speech at the University of Texas, kicking off the war on poverty. It recognized that that war on poverty had some positive effects. It also recognized, though, it had created a dependency on government. It had a perverse effect.
So then the welfare law came along in 1996, signed by my predecessor, it had bipartisan support, that tried to address the concept of dependency upon government. But we need to take it a step further, because there are still people who hurt and people whose lives are affected, people whose hearts need mending. Government must be active to fund the services, but humble to recognize the power of neighborhood healers and helpers; humble to step aside when somebody can do a better job.
I've been so impressed by the faith-based leaders I've met all around our country, because there is a genuine commitment to the poor and the disadvantaged. And that's a commitment that we must channel and a commitment we must harvest. I used to say in the campaign, I look forward to rallying the soldiers and the armies of compassion. And I mean that.
Our nation is so unique in this way: we are a nation of people who have heard a call to love a neighbor. We really are. I was sharing with the good leaders that came to visit me about the fact that everywhere I go people say, Mr. President, I'm praying for you. They're not saying it's a Democrat prayer or a Republican prayer. (Laughter.) It's just prayer. (Laughter and applause.)
It reminds me on a daily basis about the great hope and promise of America. It also reminds me how lucky I am to be the President of a great land, where people truly care about our country. It also reminds me about what government ought to do. We ought to set money out there to encourage faith-based initiatives.
At the same time, we must never be so arrogant as to say, you can't fulfill your mission if you access federal money, therefore, you have to change the entire mission of why you exist. I understand the frustrations with some in the faith-based community, and the nervousness as they approach this issue. They say to themselves, why would I want to access federal money if the federal government then tries to take away my mission, to take the cross off the wall or the Star of David off the wall. Why would I want to interface with a government that's going to say, we'll reluctantly give you money, and then force you to change your calling.
Well, I can understand that. And one of our commitments is that we will work tirelessly to make sure that bureaucracies don't stifle the very reason you exist in the first place, and the power of your ministries, which is faith -- which is faith.
And so my message to you is thanks for what you're doing. You'll have a friend and an advocate in this administration that marches side-by-side -- side-by side; that we will do our very level best to make sure that the bureaucratic obstacles are cleared and that people in need are able to get help.
In the course of the campaign I tried to explain what a faith-based initiative meant to many members of the press that followed me and, of course, many citizens. I'll never forget going to Colfax, Iowa for a teen challenge program. You know, sometimes people accuse me of not being very articulate. (Laughter.) English is my second language. (Laughter.) But there was nothing more articulate than seeing a person who had been hooked on serious drugs stand up and explain to the nation -- at least those willing to listen -- how he kicked drugs because faith had entered into his life.
It's hard to measure that. There is no formula for that. You can't write a regulation or a bureaucratic rule that suggests that that happen. But what government can do is recognize its limitations and, more significantly, recognize the power of faith in our society. And that's what this initiative does. We don't pick religions, we don't fund religion. But we welcome the soldiers of the armies of compassion.
And to you soldiers, thank you so much for being here, thank you for caring about our great land and thank you for the service you provide on a daily basis.
God bless. (Applause.)
END 2:50 P.M. EDT