Faith Based and Community Initiative Conference
Remarks as prepared for delivery by Secretary Mel Martinez
Thursday, December 12, 2002
Good morning and thank you for joining us today in Philadelphia
to discuss one of President Bush's top priorities: Faith-Based and
Over the past two years, the President has clearly demonstrated
his commitment to elevating the importance of religious values and
faith-based organizations in the battle to alleviate social ills.
His effort, our effort, is paying off!
I always enjoy coming to Philadelphia and I could not think of
a more appropriate venue to talk about empowering the "armies
of compassion" in our communities.
With the Holiday Season well underway, it is important for all
Americans to look into our hearts to see how we can help those that
are most in need, be they at-risk youth, the elderly, homeless individuals,
substance abusers or welfare-to-work families.
America is richly blessed with a long tradition and honorable commitment
to assisting families and individuals who have not fully shared
in our nation's prosperity. Yet, despite a multitude of programs
and renewed commitments by the Federal and state governments to
battle social distress, too many of our neighbors still suffer from
poverty and despair amidst our abundance.
The American people are a caring people. For, as President Bush
"There is no great society which is not
a caring society."
While Americans see a vital, yet limited role for government, they
also want to see their Federal dollars making a real difference
in the lives of the disadvantaged. And they believe that government
should help the needy achieve independence and live responsible,
They are not calling for "big government," they are calling
for a more efficient and compassionate government that is a trustworthy
steward of their hard-earned tax dollars.
While it is true that government has a solemn responsibility to
help its citizens in need, it does not, nor can it have a monopoly
Social entrepreneurs and dedicated volunteers are on the front
lines of our nation's communities seeking to lift people's lives
in ways that are beyond government's ability. Because of this, community
groups and faith-based organizations have become an indispensable
part of the social services network of the United States and they
offer literally scores of social services to those in need.
In addition to churches and congregations, faith-based organizations
include nonprofit organizations, grass roots groups and any number
of neighborhood groups formed to respond to a crisis or to lead
community renewal. Faith-based groups everywhere, either acting
on their own or as partners with other service providers and government
programs, serve the poor, and help to strengthen families and rebuild
All too often, however, the government has inadvertently hampered
the efforts of faith-based organizations to assist Federal agencies
in carrying out their missions. Federal policy and programs have
often disregarded faith-based groups as valuable resources for providing
social assistance and have imposed federal, state and local-level
barriers to the participation of religious organizations in social
service programs. This overzealous interpretation of the separation
of church and state, has only served to hurt those in our society
that are most in need.
The President and I both believe that there should be an equal
opportunity for all organizations - both faith-based
and nonreligious - to participate as partners in Federal programs.
To strengthen the work of what President Bush terms our nation's
"armies of compassion" - those civic, social, charitable
and religious groups that exist in our neighborhoods - the President
created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives
within days of taking office in January 2001.
Our colleague Jim Towey, whose job it is to work with the faith
community to help make America a better place to live, heads the
This Office today exists as a resource to, and an advocate for,
faith-based and community organizations. Its mission is to help
these groups attract resources, gain access to federal programs,
and overcome hurdles when learning how to work with government.
Today, Jim and his team at the White House are responding to those
- Working closely with Congress to secure the passage of legislation
that would create a level playing field upon which private and
charitable groups, including religious organizations, can compete
for federal funding;,
- Removing the barriers that prevent charities from doing their
- Providing incentives for increased charitable giving in America;
- Committing funds to increase the capacity of our nation's grassroots
At the same time the Office was created, the Administration also
opened five cabinet-level Centers for Faith-Based and Community
Initiatives, which today are located in the Departments of Housing
and Urban Development, Labor, Health and Human Services, Justice,
The main purpose of these Centers is to serve as a resource for
groups such as yours. While we recognize that you have been at this
for many years, we want to make sure that you are not discriminated
against and that there is a level playing field.
Each Center is doing great work to promote the President's initiative.
For example, let me share with you some examples of what is taking
- At HUD, we have recently published a brochure on the "Ten
Things Your Family Can Do to Promote Homeownership."
The President and I are committed to increasing minority homeownership
and we believe that faith-based and community organizations are
well positioned to help many low-income Americans achieve this
goal. The brochure serves as a guide for these groups.
Our Center has also initiated a pilot program to form partnerships
between faith-based organizations and public housing and community
development officials. Together, they assess the needs of their
community and then identify opportunities for faith-based and
community organizations to respond.
Another program that I would like to mention to you today is
our Colonias Initiative. The Colonias are the unplanned settlements
that exist along the U.S.-Mexico border. These settlements often
lack a number of fundamental services, including water, electricity,
reliable roads, sanitation and other infrastructure that most
Americans take for granted. Today, HUD is working to improve living
conditions in the Colonias and faith-based and community organizations
are a big part of our effort. We actively encourage faith-based
and community organizations to be our partners in this initiative.
- The Department of Labor, under the leadership of my colleague
Secretary Chao, is providing grants which link faith-based and
grassroots groups to the nation's One-Stop Career System.
This is a system that connects employment, education, and training
services into a coherent network of resources at the local, state,
and national level. The DOL also has created the Ready4Work
Initiative, which assists ex-offenders to integrate successfully
back into society after their release from prison
- At HHS, Secretary Thompson and his team have created the $30
million Compassion Capital Fund to help faith-based and
community groups build capacity and improve their ability to provide
social services to those in need.
- Secretary Paige is also doing great work over at Education.
He and his team held over 2,500 one-day workshops last summer,
where participants from faith-based and community groups met face-to-face
with folks from the White House and the cabinet Centers. Participants
also received how-to courses on grant writing and saw presentations
on federal grant opportunities.
- And at the Department of Justice, Attorney General Ashcroft
has established the Going Home Initiative. This is an initiative
that provides grants to faith-based and community organizations
to help ex-offenders become productive members of their communities.
Last July, DOJ announced 68 grants totaling some $100 million
to fuel this program.
Unfortunately, decades of government hostility or indifference
toward faith-based institutions has pushed many groups to the margins
of social-welfare policy, thereby depriving people of assistance
that is often more effective and more compassionate. In fact, many
community service organizations have been denied Federal resources
just because they have a religious affiliation or a rabbi or priest
on their board. They are shunned because they have a cross on their
wall, or a mission statement inspired by their faith.
These organizations often are the lifeblood and last resort for
people in need and their size can range from a struggling church
soup kitchen here in a Philadelphia neighborhood to a global program
such as Habitat for Humanity. Consequently, far too many of these
groups have been overlooked as legitimate partners in our nation's
efforts to help those left behind.
With the stroke of a pen, however, President Bush signaled to the
American people that Government would no longer discriminate against
groups that are guided by their belief in God as they help their
neighbors. Instead, we are inviting them to the table to be part
of the solution to our nation's problems.
Let me give you a couple of examples of how this effort is working
A Catholic organization in Sioux City, South Dakota, was recently
declined $63,000 in federal funding. The city demanded that it change
its practice of praying before serving meals to homeless persons.
The officials cited old HUD guidelines and asked that a moment of
silence be substituted for the voluntary prayer. The funding was
reserved while HUD reviewed the case. The grant eventually went
to the organization without changing its religious practice.
This type of discrimination cannot be tolerated.
Last December, I sent a letter to every public housing authority
in the country declaring that HUD's policy is not to discriminate
against people of faith. That the display of religious symbols in
common areas of public housing sites during faith-based celebrations
should not be barred. And I have told local housing officials that
HUD does not exclude faith-based organizations from federally funded
public-housing programs because of their religious beliefs.
Pure and simple: We advocate an "open door policy" for
faith-based organizations to provide social services to public housing
residents. The content of spiritual programs should not and will
not be distorted to satisfy some overzealous bureaucrat. Instead
of fearing faith, government should embrace and encourage the good
work of faith in our society.
Local charitable programs should be judged on one central question:
do they work? If they work in part because they are anchored in
faith, the government should not complain - we should encourage
HUD in the meantime, through our "Center for Faith-Based and
Community Initiatives," has been breaking down the barriers
to working with faith-based groups.
While we will not cross constitutional limits, we are streamlining
our regulations to let these organizations keep their independence
and religious identity.
The Center's objective is to make it easer for faith-based and
other grassroots community organizations to join in HUD's mission.
The goal is simple: we want more organizations to provide
more services to help more people.
We reviewed our programs and mission with this goal in mind and
found the greatest interest of these organizations to be in four
- The first is homeless assistance -- to prevent, ease, and treat
homelessness. And faith-based organizations are deeply involved
in this area.
- The second is service assistance to public housing residents,
an area that has been neglected in the past, but has tremendous
potential for growth.
Public housing residents need tools to move toward economic
independence. They need training, counseling, and mentoring.
Local faith-based organizations are well prepared to offer this
type of assistance. And public housing authorities often have
funds to back up these supportive services.
- A third key area is the promotion of homeownership. The Bush
Administration is working hard to help families achieve the American
Dream of homeownership.
Homeownership makes people aware of their responsibility to
others as well as themselves. It gives families a personal stake
in their neighborhoods. It increases democratic opportunities
to shape their communities. It instills a strong sense of pride
In areas with widespread homeownership, neighborhoods are
stable... residents are civic-minded... schools are accountable...
crime rates decline. Homeownership builds wealth for families
and creates stability for children.
President Bush and I have set an ambitious goal: we want to
help create 5.5 million additional homeowners among minority
families within a decade. HUD wants to enlist faith communities
in achieving this goal.
- The Fourth area is providing affordable housing and this is
the most traditional area of partnership between HUD and larger
And HUD intends to respond to organizations no matter how big they
are or how much experience they have. The bottom line is: if you
are a faith-based or community group and you can do the job, then
we will talk with you and we will help you succeed in the communities.
So there is a two-part process here: we must remove regulatory
and administrative barriers to participation and we must support
capacity-building activities for faith-based and community groups.
Both parts are important to achieve our goal of finding efficient
and cost-effective ways to help the most people possible.
The goal, whether at HUD or another agency across town, is to help
expand society's capacity to respond with compassion to human needs.
We are seeking compassionate results, not just compassionate intentions.
Content Archived: March 16, 2010