Key Elements of his Faith-Based Initiative
Downtown Marriott Hotel
December 12, 2002
12:45 P.M. EST
Thanks a lot for the warm welcome. It's a pleasure to be back in Philadelphia,
a city known for the history that was made here and the spirit of compassion
which is found here.
I'm honored to spend the time with you all. I thank you for your interest in
our country. You love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your
strength. (Applause.) You love your neighbor. (Applause.) And by the works that
come from your faith, you are building a more just and generous nation. And
we are grateful for your efforts. (Applause.)
I appreciate the tremendous turnout for this White House Conference on Faith-based
and Community Initiatives. I think it's a really important conference. Many
faiths and many traditions are represented here. Yet we share the same belief
that every person in need is a worthy child of God. (Applause.) And we share
the same goal: We must bring the hope and healing of faith-based services to
more and more Americans.
Government has often been slow to recognize the importance of faith-based and
community efforts. That's changing. And more changes are needed. So today, I'm
announcing a series of actions to stop the unfair treatment of religious charities
by the federal government. (Applause.)
If a charity is helping the needy, it should not matter if there is a rabbi
on the board, or a cross or a crescent on the wall, or a religious commitment
in the charter. The days of discriminating against religious groups just because
they are religious are coming to an end. (Applause.)
And I want to thank the members of my Cabinet who have traveled here today,
Mel Martinez and Ann Veneman. I appreciate the fact that two fine United States
Senators from Pennsylvania are here, Rick Santorum and Arlen Specter. I'm honored
they have traveled with me to this fine event. (Applause.) I see Congressman
Greenwood is with us, as well. Thank you for coming. Anybody else from the Congress?
They'll get the message. (Applause.)
I want to thank Mike Brown, who's the Deputy Director of FEMA, who is here.
Of course, I want to thank your Mayor, John Street. I appreciate the fact --
(applause) -- I appreciate the very fact that the Mayor understands the importance
of encouraging faith-based programs to change the neighborhoods and the lives
of the good people of Philadelphia.
I want to thank Cardinal Bevilacqua for coming. Your Eminence, it's good to
see you, sir. I want to thank Franklin Graham. I want to thank all the leaders,
the generals, the soldiers in the armies of compassion who are here with us
Today, I landed Air Force One -- one of the things I try to do is herald the
heroes of our society. I met Gary Hobbs, the USA Freedom Corps greeter. He's
a former NFL player for, of course, the Eagles, who volunteers as a mentor for
disadvantaged children. I want to thank Gary for his support and his service.
Every generation of Americans must rise to its own challenges, and the challenges
facing this generation are very clear. We must overcome great dangers to our
country, wherever they gather. We're waging a war -- we're waging an unrelenting
effort in this war to dismantle a terrorist network which has attacked America.
I have no greater obligation than to protect our country and to defend our freedoms.
We will confront outlaw regimes which hate our country and arm to threaten civilization,
itself. We have that obligation, to recognize the world changed for America
on September the 11th, 2001. Before that date, it seemed like we could use the
oceans to protect us from gathering dangers. We could be confident that nobody
could possibly hurt America -- hurt Americans on America soil. And that changed.
And, therefore, our government and your leadership must have a realistic assessment
of the dangers we have faced and we will face. We have acted, and we will act
again, to protect the American people and to keep the peace. (Applause.)
We must also rise to a second challenge facing our country. This great and prosperous
land must become a single nation of justice and opportunity. We must continue
our advance toward full equality for every citizen, which demands the guarantee
of civil rights for all. (Applause.) Any suggestion that the segregated past
was acceptable or positive is offensive, and it is wrong. (Applause.)
Recent comments -- recent comments by Senator Lott do not reflect the spirit
of our country. (Applause.) He has apologized, and rightly so. Every day our
nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding
ideals. (Applause.) And the founding ideals of our nation and, in fact, the
founding ideals of the political party I represent was, and remains today, the
equal dignity and equal rights of every American. (Applause.)
And so the -- and this is the principle that guides my administration. We will
not, and we must not, rest until every person of every race believes in the
promise of America because they see it in their own eyes, with their own eyes,
and they live it and feel it in their own lives.
We have work to do. We must be honest about it. We have got a lot of work to
do in this country, because there are pockets of despair in America. (Applause.)
There are men and women who doubt the American Dream is meant for them. There
are people who face the struggles of illness and old age with no one to help
them or pray with them. There are men and women who fight every minute of the
day against terrible addictions. There are boys with no family but a gang, and
teenage moms who are abandoned and alone. And then there are the children who
wonder if anybody loves them.
We've reformed welfare in America to help many, yet welfare policy will not
solve the deepest problems of the spirit. (Applause.) Our economy is growing,
yet there are some needs that prosperity can never fill. We arrest and convict
dangerous criminals; yet building more prisons is no substitute for responsibility
and order in our souls. (Applause.)
No government policy can put hope in people's hearts or a sense of purpose in
people's lives. That is done when someone, some good soul puts an arm around
a neighbor and says, God loves you, and I love, and you can count on us both.
And we find that powerful spirit of compassion in faith-based and community
groups across our nation: People giving shelter to the homeless; providing safety
for battered women; giving care and comfort to AIDS victims; bringing companionship
to lonely seniors.
I saw that spirit of compassion earlier today when I visited adults and children
involved in a program called Amachi at the Bright Hope Baptist Church right
here in Philadelphia. In the Amachi program, good people from more than 50 churches
in this area serve as mentors to the children of prisoners. They share their
time and attention. They just serve as a friend.
Most of us find it difficult to imagine the life of a child who has to go through
a prison gate to be hugged by their mom or dad. Yet this is the reality for
almost a million-and-a-half American boys and girls. They face terrible challenges
that no child deserves to face. Without guidance, they have a higher risk of
failing in school and committing crimes themselves. The volunteers of Amachi,
who are with us here today with the children they are loving, are such wonderful
givers of guidance and love.
I'm told that "amachi" is a Western African word that means, "Who
knows what God has brought us through this child." That attitude is the
inspiration of a good mentoring program. No child is a problem or a burden;
every child is a priority and a blessing. (Applause.) That is the message of
the almighty God who cares for these, and that is the message carried to the
city by the volunteers of Amachi. And I want thank them for being here today.
And I want to thank them for their love. And I want to thank them for their
example for other Americans to follow.
Faith-based charities work daily miracles because they have idealistic volunteers.
They're guided by moral principles. They know the problems of their own communities,
and above all, they recognize the dignity of every citizen and the possibilities
of every life. These groups and many good charities that are specifically religious
have the heart to serve others. Yet many lack the resources they need to meet
the needs around them.
They deserve the support of the rest of us. They deserve the support of foundations.
They deserve the support of corporate America. (Applause.) They deserve the
support of individual donors, of church congregations, of synagogues and mosques.
And then deserve, when appropriate, the support of the federal government. (Applause.)
Faith-based groups will never replace government when it comes to helping those
in need. Yet government must recognize the power and unique contribution of
faith-based groups in every part of our country. And when the federal government
gives contracts to private groups to provide social services, religious groups
should have an equal chance to compete. (Applause.) When decisions are made
on public funding, we should not focus on the religion you practice; we should
focus on the results you deliver. (Applause.)
The Amachi program receives 38 percent of its funding from the federal government.
My administration has been working for nearly two years to encourage this kind
of support to good faith-based programs. And we're making some progress. The
Department of Housing and Urban Development, run by Mel, we've changes regulations
in eight programs which cover over $8 billion in grants to encourage competition
that includes faith-based groups. We've opened up more than $1 billion in after-school
programs to competition, including faith-based groups. We're reaching out to
grassroots community groups and helping them learn the complicated process of
grant-making. I see a lot of heads nodding when it comes to complicated process.
Yet there's a lot to do. In government, we're still fighting old attitudes,
habits and rules that discriminate against religious groups for no good purpose.
In Iowa, for example, the Victory Center Rescue Mission was told to return grant
money to the government because the mission's board of directors was not secular
enough. The St. Francis House Homeless Shelter in South Dakota was denied a
grant because voluntary prayers were offered before meals. A few years ago in
New York, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty was discouraged from even
applying for federal funds because it had the word "Jewish" in its
These are examples of a larger pattern, a pattern of discrimination. And this
discrimination shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the law. I recognize
that government has no business endorsing a religious creed, or directly funding
religious worship or religious teaching. That is not the business of the government.
Yet government can and should support social services provided by religious
people, as long as those services go to anyone in need, regardless of their
faith. (Applause.) And when government gives that support, charities and faith-based
programs should not be forced to change their character or compromise their
And I don't intend to compromise either. (Applause.) I have worked for a faith-based
initiative to rally and encourage the armies of compassion. I will continue
to work with Congress on this agenda. But the needs of our country are urgent
and, as President, I have an authority I intend to use. (Applause.) Many acts
of discrimination -- many acts of discrimination against faith-based groups
are committed by Executive Branch agencies. And, as the leader of the Executive
Branch, I'm going to make some changes, effective today. (Applause.)
First, in a few minutes -- you'll be happy to hear -- (laughter) -- I am going
to sign an executive order directing all federal agencies to follow the principle
of equal treatment in rewarding social service grants. (Applause.)
Every person in every government agency will know where the President stands.
And every person will have the responsibility to ensure a level playing field
for faith-based organizations in federal programs. No funds will be used to
directly support inherently religious activities; yet no organization that qualifies
for funds will ever been forced to change its identity.
And secondly, I have directed specific action in several federal agencies with
a history of discrimination against faith-based groups. FEMA will revise its
policy on emergency relief so that religious nonprofit groups can qualify for
assistance after disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes. (Applause.) HUD
and HHS, who provide so much grant money to communities across America, will
revise their regulations to reflect the principle of nondiscrimination. (Applause.)
In addition, we're issuing a guidebook which you've received. The book explains
in plain English -- (laughter) -- how faith-based groups can qualify for government
grants. It gives guidance on what you can and cannot do with taxpayers' money.
We're going to distribute this guidebook widely. We will continue to hold regional
conferences like this one all around the United States of America. The rules
for dealing with the government are clear, and we want more and more faith-based
charities to become partners in our efforts, our unyielding efforts to change
America one heart, one conscience, one soul at a time. (Applause.)
Through all these actions, I hope that every faith-based group in America, the
social entrepreneurs of America, understand that this government respects your
work and we respect the motivation behind your work. We do not want you to become
carbon copies of public programs. (Applause.) We want you to follow your heart.
We want you to follow the word. We want you to do the works of kindness and
mercy you are called upon to do. (Applause.) Thank you.
For too long, for too long, some in government believed there was no room for
faith in the public square.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Preach on, brother! (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I guess they've forgotten the history of this great country.
People of faith led the struggle against slavery. People of faith fought against
child labor. People of faith worked for women's equality and civil rights. Every
expansion of justice in American history received inspiration from men and women
of moral conviction and religious belief. And in America today, people of faith
are waging a determined campaign against need and suffering.
When government discriminates against religious groups, it is not the groups
that suffer most. The loss comes to the hungry who don't get fed, to the addicts
who don't get help, to the children who drift toward self-destruction. For the
sake of so many brothers and sisters in needs, we must and we will support the
armies of compassion in America. (Applause.)
The steps we take today will help clear away a legacy of discrimination against
faith-based charities. In the new year, I will announce further initiatives
to help community groups that serve their neighbors.
Our nation needs more mentors. Particularly, mentors for children whose mom
or dad is in prison. (Applause.) Our nation needs more centers to treat addiction.
Our nation must recognize that if we can change a heart, we're more than likely
to change someone's habits, and addiction on drugs and alcohol. (Applause.)
Instead of building towering bureaucracies, government should be finding new
and creative ways to support local efforts.
I call this approach compassionate conservatism. And in my State of the Union
message, I will ask members of both political parties to move forward with me
on this vision. By promoting the compassion of our people, by promoting the
great strength of America, we will bring new hope to neighborhoods all across
You know something about America? We meet every challenge that faces our country.
That's why I'm so optimistic about our future. And we will answer the call of
our times. We will defend our freedoms, and we will lead the world toward peace.
And we will unite America behind the great goals of justice and compassion.
In the work of compassion, it is not the people in government who are the experts;
the people in this room are the experts. (Applause.) The people in this room
are helping lead America to a better day. You just need to know that. And you
need to know that I am incredibly grateful for what you do. There is a saying,
nobody can teach you how to be a good servant of God, you have to learn it on
the job. (Applause.) And you are doing that job so incredibly well.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: And you are, too! (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate your commitment -- I appreciate your commitment.
I appreciate your service. I appreciate your love. And now I'm proud to sign
this executive order providing equal treatment for faith-based charities all
across the greatest land on the face of the Earth, the United States of America.
May God bless you all.