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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 12, 2002
Press Gaggle with Ari Fleischer
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
10:42 A.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good morning. I'm here to report, and we're joined by Jim Towey, who heads the Faith-based Initiative for the President, and wants to share some information with you, as well.
The President this morning called President Lagos of Chile. The President called him to mark the successful conclusion yesterday of the U.S.-Chile free trade agreement negotiations. The two Presidents discussed the significance of this achievement, which not only deepens the U.S.-Chile bilateral relationship, but it is a positive signal to the hemisphere about the importance of free trade, and it's an important way of continuing to create jobs in America.
Then the President had his intelligence briefing, FBI briefing, and now we are on our way to Philadelphia. I'll return to Philadelphia in just a second. Upon returning to the White House, the President will drop by the American Legislative Exchange Council and briefing here at the White House.
In Philadelphia, as part of the President's vision of compassionate care for the poor and those in danger of being left behind, the Office of Faith-based Community Initiatives has identified at-risk youth as one of the target populations where we need to help Americans at risk.
Children of inmates are one of the most endangered groups in America today. There are 1.5 million children across the country who have parents incarcerated in state and federal prisons. These children are six times more likely than their peers to suffer from problems such as juvenile delinquency, alcohol and substance abuse, and poor academic performance. Without effective intervention, 70 percent of these children will likely follow their parent's path into prison or jail.
The program the President is visiting is called the Amachi Mentoring Program, and it's one of the nation's leading programs for mentoring children of prisoners. The President is looking forward to his visit there. And then the President will make remarks, at which time he will sign an executive order that makes it easier for faith-based groups to work with the federal government to compete for and receive federal funds while retaining their religious character.
The executive order -- and Jim is available here to answer any questions about it -- will ensure that agency regulations and procedures are consistent with equal treatment principles. It will direct agencies to change their regulations so that no organization will be discriminated against based on religion, and that no beneficiary of a federally funded social service may be discriminated against based on any grounds.
I want to give you two examples of why the President thinks this is necessary. After the Seattle earthquake, there was a group in Seattle that applied for federal funds under FEMA as a result of the damage done in the course of the earthquake. This group, the Seattle Hebrew Academy, was a private religious school which was denied relief after the earthquake on the grounds that it was a religious institution and, therefore, did not qualify for disaster relief. The President's executive order will change that. The President sees no reason why a group that is damaged by an earthquake should be discriminated against because its mission is religious.
Similarly, another organization I want to cite for you is in Oklahoma, in Tulsa, there's a small faith-based organization that provides great after-school programs for juvenile delinquents. It applied for a $10,000 grant in April of 2001 under a Department of Justice program that was --
Q How much?
MR. FLEISCHER: $10,000. It's called the Sharyn Cosby Ministries. It applied for a $10,000 grant in April of 2001 through the Department of Justice for a program that was administered by the Oklahoma Juvenile Justice Division. It's a highly regarded program. And they were notified in June 2001 that they received the award. But then, after the group's bylaws were reviewed, the organization was declared too religious in nature, even though the service the organization was providing was completely secular. The grant decision was then reversed.
The actions the President is taking today will help ensure that groups like this, that very often are the best groups in society to help those who have been left behind, will no longer be denied funds simply because they have a religious nature. The President looks at people in America who have been left behind, they deserve every shot at making it in America, and believes that these barriers serve as an impediment to helping people make it in America.
There are many government programs that do their best to help the poor and the needy. Despite the good intention of those programs, there still remain addicts, children of prisoners and many others who are left behind. And the President wants to extend society's help to all those groups who -- people who fall through the cracks. And he believes the executive orders he will sign today will help bring help to people who have been left behind and have fallen through cracks.
The last item I want to bring to your attention, and then both Jim and I are happy to take your questions, is a very exciting announcement, I'm very pleased to make it. As part of an annual tradition that started with Jackie Kennedy, this morning Mrs. Bush is visiting the Children's National Medical Center for the annual holiday party. She'll be escorted to the party by a young gentleman named Iran Brown and Elise Smith. Iran is the 13-year-old sniper victim who until today has not been seen publicly.
Q From Bowie Middle School?
MR. FLEISCHER: His family requested that he escort Mrs. Bush for today's visit. He was treated in the burn, surgery and trauma unit in the hospital and is now an outpatient.
The other part of the announcement, which I was referring to earlier, that I want to share with you, is as part of the program about holiday giving and holiday joy and a season of -- this happy season, Mrs. Bush will debut the Barney Cam before about 50 child patients and their families. The video will be played, and then the real Barney will join Mrs. Bush on stage as she takes questions from the audience. It's an open press event. The Barney Cam is, of course, going to go on the White House webpage. It's just little old Barney wearing a camera that's smaller than the ones that the usual White House cameramen have to carry, as Barney films life at the White House at the holiday season.
Q Has Barney joined the Screen Actors Guild, or does he have a union card?
MR. FLEISCHER: Barney is a union buster from way back.
Q What time is the event, Ari.
MR. FLEISCHER: Mrs. Bush's event?
MR. FLEISCHER: Mrs. Bush's exciting event -- my paperwork on it doesn't indicate time, but I remember from the briefing that I had that it was, I think, around 10:15 a.m. or so.
Q Can I ask a process question about the executive order? Did the President sign it already, before he left the White House, or will that happen --
MR. TOWEY: He's going to sign it at the end of his remarks today.
Q So we'll actually see that happen.
MR. FLEISCHER: But there are other executive orders that are part of today that he did sign at the White House. He'll sign one today in Philadelphia.
Q Can you tell me the distinction between some of those?
MR. TOWEY: The executive orders dealing with the faith-based initiative -- there are two of them. The one that he will sign on stage is the Equal Protection Executive Order that seeks to end discrimination against faith-based groups. The other one that establishes faith-based centers at the Department of Agriculture and AID is not going to be signed on stage, but is signed today.
Q Has that already been done?
MR. TOWEY: I don't know.
Q And is it correct that this first order will allow funds to go to groups that discriminate in their hiring?
MR. TOWEY: He's going to sign an executive order that says faith-based organizations have -- we need those organizations, of course, to provide more services to our poor. They have a right to maintain their identity. Congress has five different approaches on hiring rights. It's very confusing. Action Ministries in Atlanta is a good example. They get funds from two different federal grants; one has hiring restrictions, one doesn't. Very confusing. The President hopes Congress clears up that muddle of laws that has been exceedingly difficult for small groups to maneuver with.
The President's executive order today, while not addressing directly hiring rights on federal grants, is going to make clear that these groups are not to be barred from participating in federal grants just because they have a religious name or religious board of directors, or governing articles, mission statements that are faith-based. He wants to see these groups able to compete, make sure they don't discriminate in terms of who they serve -- whatever your religious belief or sexual orientation, there's no discrimination on who walks through the door of a soup kitchen that's federally funded. But he also, I think, wants to make clear the Congress will continue to be addressing the issues; I'm sure they will.
Q I thought the executive order included the ability of contractors to continue their religious -- hiring based on religion, a distinction from those getting grants. Is that correct?
MR. TOWEY: That's right. What I said was in the context of federal grants. Federal contracts will be included in the executive order. The President will make clear that religious organizations that contract on amounts of $10,000 or more are able to hire on a religious basis, consistent with Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act, that's been in place for 38 years and has worked very well. The President simply feels that this executive order will clarify that these groups keep that civil right they have when they do federal contracting. There was no effort by Congress to pull it back, and as the Chief Executive, it is within his prerogative to do this. And I think it's updating America's approach to social services.
Back when the initial executive order was issued in the '60s, there wasn't federal contracting with faith-based groups. Some might have received grants. They weren't treated as contractors. So the President simply is addressing the reality that nowadays there are some contracts that go out to faith-based groups and they should not have to alter their identity to provide a federal service.
He does stress that they have to follow federal law and federal regulation. And that means that you don't proselytize with federal funds. And that your religious activities are separate and funded separate from your federally funded services or contracted or grant wise.
Q There's likely to be criticism today with groups saying that religious organizations shouldn't be getting government money if they can discriminate in hiring. What is the White House's response to that kind of criticism?
MR. TOWEY: Very simple. Since 1996, when President Clinton signed the first charitable choice legislation, federal groups have -- federal programs have been made available, such as welfare to work, so we're talking tens of billions of dollars -- to faith-based organizations with the express permission that they could hire with federal funds according to their religious beliefs. There aren't any horror stories and, since 1996, the programs are working well. And at no point has Congress ever repealed the Title VII exemption that has stood for 38 years to protect religious organizations' rights to hire.
So I don't think what President Bush is doing today is anything novel. And certainly, the President respects the importance of the Constitution prohibition of funding religion. The wall he wants to tear down is the wall that separates the poor from effective programs. He wants to see our drug addicts receive the best possible services. And what you'll hear today, I think, is the President cite examples of where the poor have been denied access to effective programs simply because that organization might have had a religious character. So he opposes the funding of religion; always has. This initiative is about better care for the poor.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that the burden is on the critics to explain why the Hebrew Academy, for example, should not receive funding after an earthquake. The burden on the critics is to explain why a program in Oklahoma that helps juvenile delinquents should be denied help because they are effective and they can bring help to those who have been left behind.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me do this. Let's stay with faith-based for a second. If there's anything else you need, I'll take them, but you've got Jim here now.
Q Do you mind if I change topics?
Q Not going to comment on Trent Lott?
MR. FLEISCHER: I want to reiterate, the President thought what Trent Lott said was wrong. And Trent Lott has apologized. The President feels very strongly about this. The President knows that we're a nation that has been improved as a result of the civil rights movement, the civil rights changes that were made to our country. We're a better nation. We were a worse nation when we were a segregated nation.
Q But does he feel strongly enough that Senator Lott shouldn't be Majority Leader?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President does not think that Trent Lott should resign.
Q Ari, on the North Korean decision to restart its nuclear powerplant, is that a provocation? Does that escalate the dispute?
MR. FLEISCHER: The statement that North Korea made, that it plans to resume the operation and construction of its nuclear facilities, is regrettable. The announcement flies in the face of international consensus that the North Korean regime must fulfill all its commitments, and in particular, dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
We seek a peaceful resolution to the situation that North Korea has created. As the President said, we have no intentions of invading North Korea. The international community has made it clear that North Korea's relations with the outside world hinge on the elimination of its nuclear weapons program. The next step is for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program in a visible and verifiable manner. We will consult with friends and allies regarding an appropriate response to this latest move by the North Korean regime.
Finally, the United States has always been open to dialogue in principle, and was prepared for a comprehensive approach to improving U.S. -North Korean relations before the disclosure of North Korea's clandestine uranium enrichment program. However, the United States will not enter into dialogue in response to threats or broken commitments, and we will not bargain or offer inducements for North Korea to live up to the treaties and agreements it has signed.
Q So are you open to talks now, or does North Korea need to take some action before you have talks?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the statement speaks for itself.
Q I don't understand it, though.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd refer you to the final item that I said.
Q The Post story about the possible chemical weapons transfer, can you talk about whether that report was actually corroborated or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: To say that we have longstanding had concerns about Iraq providing weaponry to al Qaeda, and of course we know that al Qaeda is seeking --
Q That was what, I'm sorry?
MR. FLEISCHER: Weaponry to al Qaeda, and we know al Qaeda is seeking it. But beyond that, I just don't get into intelligence information.
END 10:57 A.M. EST