The faith-based initiative during President Bush's first term did almost nothing to challenge Washington-centric social services spending. Recently, though, the White House has tried to redirect parts of the funding process.
About $100 million a year in support of anti-addiction and anti-alcoholism programs now goes out through the Access to Recovery program (ATR), which emphasizes vouchers that can be used at God-centered programs, or at secular or superficially religious ones. For example, the conventional grant-making process does not allow involvement by Teen Challenge programs, since they refuse to give up their religious emphasis, but 13 Teen Challenge centers in nine states received funding through vouchers.
Dennis Griffin of Teen Challenge Southern California told WORLD that ATR has brought increased recognition of faith-based recovery programs and allowed Teen Challenge to reach more people. No First Amendment questions involving "establishment of religion" are involved, since individuals rather than government officials choose which groups to patronize.
Over 5,500 organizations-including over 1,200 faith-based ones-have participated in ATR, with one-third of all vouchers for anti-addiction, anti-alcoholism services redeemed at faith-based organizations. White House officials particularly point to opportunities in Connecticut, where 7,000 of the 16,000 people given the freedom to choose among an array of services selected faith-based ones.
The applause that program is receiving also shows that the Bush administration's support of social service vouchers, had it come in 2001 and been carried throughout the faith-based initiative, would have led to vastly different perceptions of compassionate conservatism. If the next White House occupant expands ATR-type decentralization he could gain broad support, because many Americans now realize that the mega-billion spending bills of compassionate liberalism have done more harm than good.
Related article: A seed in good soil: On a golden anniversary, Teen Challenge grows as political plants choke amid thorns, by Marvin Olasky