LAT on White House’s faith based initiative and alleged abuses to implement it

 Johanna Newman at her Los Angeles Times White House blog, “Faith or Cronyism in the White House Faith-Based Initiative?” :

The White House faith-based initiative is in the news again. The program has been controversial from the start — derided by critics for requiring the needy to accept religion along with acts of charity, and avoided by some religious groups who feared they’d lose their church/state independence from government.

Now, amid new allegations that contracts were awarded to the politically connected, the program is getting the presidential spotlight.

At a national conference Thursday, Bush plans to say that the program has helped millions. “It does not matter if there is a crescent on your group’s wall, a rabbi on your group’s board or Chirst in your group’s name,” Bush will say, according to advance excerpts released today by the White House. “If your organization puts medicine in people’s hands, food in people’s mouths or a roof over people’s heads, then you are succeeding, and the government should support your work.”

ABC News reported Tuesday that the Justice Department gave a $1.2 million grant jointly to a California evangelical youth charity called Victory Outreach and a consulting firm run by a Lisa Trevino Cummins, who headed Hispanic outreach efforts for the White House faith-based office featured in the photo above. The allegation, first brought by career employees at the Justice Department, is being investigated by the DOJ’s Inspector General.

“The incident of cronyism removes all doubts that the real mission of the faith-based initiative is to aid the religious right,” said Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, the president of Interfaith Alliance, an advocacy group with 185,00 members of 75 different faiths. “Congress needs to exercise greater oversight on this program so that we can avoid scandals like this in the future.” Gaddy is not the first to charge foul. Former White House staffer David Kuo charged that after he left the administration federal funds were funneled to evangelical Christian charities without congressional approval.

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