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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
White House Deputy Assistant to the President and Director, Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives

October 15, 2004

Jim Towey

Steven, from Kansas writes:
In what ways can church entities be involved in government programs that are intent on reducing and eliminating substandard housing?

Jim Towey
Many faith-based and community groups are partnering with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to either build new public housing units or repair old ones. One of the most exciting developments last year was to see that the amount of HUD grants that went to faith-based groups doubled to $113 million - so a lot of groups are engaged in these efforts. Visit our web site at to see what opportunities exist at HUD with respet to programs for the homeless and those in need of subsidized housing.

Brittany, from NH writes:
It is very evident in the constitution that church and state are supposed to be seperated. Dont you think that this faith based program brings church and state together?

Jim Towey
Good question, Brittany. My answer: No, I don't. The Constitution was very careful to put the Establishment clause and the Free Exercise clause together to show their equal importance. In fact, when Thomas Jefferson penned in a letter his famous phrase, "wall of separation between church and state," two days later he attended religious worship services in a government building. Imagine if President Bush did that! So I think we have been careful to keep church and state from becoming one, and with the guidelines we have published and the rules instituted, religious charities know that they can't preach on Uncle Sam's dollar, or buy religious materials, or discriminate against people of a different faith or no faith at all, or force people to worship in order to receive that public service. So we have been careful to honor the First Amendment - President Bush deeply respects both religion clauses.

Christal, from Texas writes:
Do you feel that there has been wide-spread support for the Faith based initiatives, and what do you feel we as citizens canshould do to help the publics view of them?

Jim Towey
University of Akron just published a poll that showed Americans support the idea of giving grants to religious organizations in order that they provide social services, by a margin of 50-34. So yes, I think there is broad support. While there has been a very vocal minority of critics whose views could be characterized as "extreme secularists," most Americans believe that President Bush is on the right track in giving the poor access to the best addiction, homeless, and job training programs, regardless of whether they are run by a faith-based group or not. With respect to your second question, I urge people to volunteer in these programs - it will change your life, and deepen your conviction of the potential these programs have to change the lives of Americans in need.

Sean, from Poughkeepsie, NY writes:
Why can't you keep religion out of politics.

Jim Towey
The faith-based and community initiative is not about religion - it is about results, and about changing lives of the homeless, addicted, and others in need. We don't fund religion. Now, as for keeping politics out of Washington, I think we are going to need a miracle there!

Joseph, from Chicago, IL writes:
Thank you Mr. Towey for answering my question. I go to church but I don't understand why the government should fund faith-based programs. Doesn't this violate seperation of church and state? Can't we put these funds to government organizations like boy and girl scouts? Just interested in your opinion. Thank you.

Jim Towey
I hope I answered your question Joseph in my previous answer. And I agree with you - Boy Scout and Girl Scout organizations are doing great things in America.

Tim, from Silver Spring, MD writes:
I'm curious what the breakdown of financial support is among all of the various religions represented in the United States.

Jim Towey
We don't track grant funds based on which religions receive them - some organizations are a collaboration of Jewish, Christian and Muslim organizations in the community. We do know that organizations of all faiths have received grants. Sadly, PBS did a TV program a while back that allowed the impression that only Christian groups are receiving funds. Totally untrue. Still waiting for them to correct that whopper of a mistake!

John, from Minneapolis writes:
I believe that it is important for faith-based groups to engage in activities that help those less fortunate in their communities. But isn't it also the role of government to make sure that there are programs in place to protect and assist the poor, vulnerable and marginalized citizens? Shouldn't it be the government deloping and implementing programs with long range vision for addressing such issues, instead of faith-based groups who may have shifting priorties and alterior motives?

Jim Towey
President Bush believes government has a central and critical role to play in providing services to people in need. The critics of the faith-based and community initiative said that the President was simply shifting the responsibility from government to churches and synagogues. After nearly four years, we know that these critics were 100% wrong. So the real issue is: who can best provide these critical services? President Bush believes that many small, neighborhood groups are uniquely capable of partnering with the Federal government to provide these services, and that is what our Initiative is all about.

Sherry, from Oregon writes:
Could you please tell us the scripture that President Bush used to place his hand on the Bible in the 2000 inaugeration. I am a chaplain of a Women's Republican group here in Oregon and would like to pray over that scripture for our president, and our nation.Iknow that the scriptures chosen always have special meaning for the president. Thank You

Jim Towey
Can't help you on that one, Sherry. I don't know. I used to work for Senator Hatfield, and so I got out to Oregon a lot, so hope you are enjoying Oregon's tremendous autumnal beauty! I do know that the President and Mrs. Bush really like Psalm 27: The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom should I fear? That is a beautiful Psalm.

John, from Berwyn, IL. writes:
Mr. Towey, Can you share with us any personal prayers you say to help get you through your day? Especially ones dealing with the disconect between words and practices of this administration on issues of social justice, poverty, the death penalty and stewardship of the environment?

Many thanks,


Jim Towey
Well, John, I am not sure what disconnect you are referring to. Prayer is very important, and I know that the President prays a lot and depends on the prayers of the American people as he tries to do his job as best as he can.

Patricia, from Fairhaven Massachusetts writes:
I would just like to send the message to President Bush that I feel he is doing an excellent job even in the face of all the negativity this past year. I hope he stays strong and knows that the negativity is not coming from the average citizen but from the media.

Jim Towey
Thanks Patricia! Your words of encouragement will mean a lot to him - and all of us working for him!

Adriana, from Illinois writes:
Hello my name is adriana and i am a freshman at Uic Chicago. i am doing a class project and i have to ask a question to someone that works in the executive branch at the federal level. can you please answer me this one question for my political science class how did you get to your current government position, and what is your most memorable experience of the time you have served in your current position and why was it memorable to you? i would really aprreciate if you can help me out with my project and sorry for any inconvinience thank you sincerly adriana

Jim Towey
Happy to help. I was appointed by President Bush in February of 2002 and since I worked 12 years for Mother Teresa before she went home to God, I really think I got this job because she pulled a few strings! It didn't hurt that I had worked before with the President's Chief of Staff, Andy Card, during the time of recovery from Hurricane Andrew in Miami, and that I know Governor Bush in Florida pretty well. Plus, I was qualified based on having run a 40,000 employee organization as secretary of Florida's health and human services agency. I have many great memories. It is a thrill to walk into the Oval Office and brief the President - the first time I was a little nervous and my main goal was to try not to wet the sofa. Just kidding. That's Barney's main goal! I love working here. My favorite memories are when the President has private meetings with addicts in recovery, and homeless people trying to get their lives back on track, and welfare-to-work moms who are trying to do better for themselves, because I get to see the President sitting down with these humble souls and they just talk like they are old friends. Only in America will you ever see that.

Cliff, from Kent, Ohio writes:
Hi Jim: If the Faith Based and Community Initiatives was a school. This coming January would be the senior year (4th) What would the report card grade be? Thank You

Jim Towey
A plus - but I'm a lenient grader.

I don't think I am the best judge of that - but I take great satisfaction that the President has done what he said he would do, and that countless Americans have seen that they now have a broader choice of social service providers. We have a great staff here, and they all have worked very hard, and I think President Bush is the biggest advocate of the faith-based and community initiative because it is rooted in his heart. He believes in the power of faith and what faith-based organizations and faith-filled people can do. And he also knows that many Americans, not motivated by faith, are doing wonderful acts of compassion. I think the Initiative is something we are all very proud of.

Joshua, from Itasca writes:
I'm doing a project for school. What is Bush's religion?

Jim Towey

Vincent, from Woodbridge, VA writes:
Assalaimu Allaikum (peac of Allah be with you), Mr Towey. I am an american borm Muslim convert and a veteran and am very proud of all of these facts. The President has commented in the past on how Muslims piety and virtue during the month of Ramadan makes America stronger. This being the first day of Ramadan, I think it would be appropriate for you to please comment on the impact that Muslims have had in shaping our cultural landscape through good works and charity, not only during Ramadan but all throughout the year.

Jim Towey
Hi Vincent. Rather than my thoughts on this, I urge you to go to the White House web site and read the proclamation the President issued this morning on Ramadan. I hope this time will be one of spiritual renewal for you.

Annie, from Washington, DC writes:
Hi Mr. Towey. I am a frequent visitor to the White House website and have learned that you and Barney share quite an interesting relationship. It seems that, in the past, he has eaten your BLT sandwich and called in a fake report about you being stuck in a tree... How would you characterize your relationship?

Jim Towey
Hi Annie. I love Barney. But he plays tricks on me all the time. One time he came and snatched my hairpiece off my head and there I was with my bald head shining away! I guess I would say that since Barney is the First Pet, I better be very careful about what I say or I might lose my job because the President loves Barney. Barney is playful and loves to play pranks. I hope Barney's "trick or treat" plans for the end of the month don't embarrass me further.

Jim Towey
Well, we've run out of time. Sorry I couldn't get to all of the questions but there were so many - so I hope I get a chance to answer more some day. You were nice to take time out of your busy day to join in with us here at "Ask the White House" and have a great weekend! God bless you, Jim Towey

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