Keeping the Voice of Faith Heard in the Public Square

Jim Towey on Balancing Church and State

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ST. PAUL, Minnesota, FEB. 29, 2004 ( When we banish faith from the public square, we risk reducing the truth to godless orthodoxy, says an aide to U.S. President George Bush.

Jim Towey, deputy assistant to Bush and director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, spoke at the University of St. Thomas recently about trends in the United States.

«In America, there has been a movement to make secularism almost a religion that has its own sets of beliefs and core principles,» said Towey. «By forbidding any religious voice, it can almost be said that we have instituted a secular orthodoxy.»

«Now we see a public square that is often devoid of values and often deprecating things that Americans hold very dear about God and about human beings being made in the image and likeness of God,» he said.

Towey advocated the inclusion, rather than the silencing, of the faith voice in the public square.

«We can be respectful of other faiths that view God differently, worship God differently or don’t worship at all,» he said. «They are our brothers and our sisters. This is what pluralism means.

«It cannot be a conspiracy of silence where every faith is quiet and can’t speak aloud because it might not be in agreement with someone else’s views. Pluralism doesn’t mean that everyone is quiet, it means that everyone is free — Jews, Muslims and Christians are free to be the best they can be.»

The Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives works with the various federal departments and agencies to provide government funding to faith-based and community groups that serve those in need. The needy particularly include at-risk youth, ex-offenders, the homeless and the hungry, substance abusers, welfare-to-work families and those with HIV/AIDS.

Towey, who lived as a full-time volunteer at Mother Teresa’s home for AIDS patients in Washington, D.C., during most of 1990 and served as her legal council for many years, stressed that faith-based and community groups must obey all legal requirements in order to receive government support.

«We need to be careful how we run this initiative,» he said. «The government shouldn’t fund conversion or religion.»

«But the bigger issue is the proper role of faith-based initiatives in addressing social needs,» Towey added. «If an individual who has a drug problem chooses to go to a program that has a religious component, and that component will lead to recovery, the government has a stake in that person’s recovery.»

He went on to say, «The president respects the wall between the church and state, but I do think that he wants to tear down the wall that separates the poor from very effective programs.»

Clarifying that he did not advocate merging church and state, Towey said, «When you swing the pendulum in the other direction, you can end up with the madness that you see in many countries where church and state become one.»

«You cannot fund religion, you cannot favor a particular faith in this country,» he said. «It’s an anathema to all of our core principles and the very tenets of our Founding Fathers.»

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