Texas Faith-Based Initiative Is Political Shell Game

Texas Faith-Based Initiative Is Political Shell Game

State initiative plagued with same problems as national counterpart

October 17, 2006

AUSTIN Revelations that President Bush’s so-called “faith-based initiative” has been used as a partisan political tool should refocus attention on similar efforts in Texas, the president of the Texas Freedom Network said today.

“This is yet another example of cynical politicians seeking to misuse religion for political gain,” TFN President Kathy Miller said. “Using public tax dollars, they have taken advantage of the good intentions of people of faith in an effort to win votes. And it appears that effort is being repeated this year in Texas.”

A new book by David Kuo charges that the Bush administration deliberately used government funding for churches and other faith-based groups to win votes from Christian conservatives. Kuo served as a top official in President Bush’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Evidence is mounting that the so-called faith-based initiative in Texas shares many of the same problems Kuo revealed about its national counterpart:

Gov. Perry appointed Susan Weddingon, former chair of the Texas Republican Party, to head up the ostensibly nonpartisan OneStar Foundation. Yet Ms. Weddington has used her office to promote the governor’s political efforts. She has appeared at multiple events organized by the Texas Restoration Project in her capacity as head of the governor’s faith-based initiative office. But her presentations had little to do with faith-based initiatives. Instead she praised the governor’s faith to the several hundred pastors gathered for these event:

“I’ve also had a chance to walk by his [Perry’s] side spiritually. And I will tell you unabashedly, unashamedly… that we have a man who is a giant – he’s a spiritual giant. And yet his heart is so connected to the people and he is so humble, and he’s just a guy from Paint Creek, Texas.”
[Austin “Pastors’ Policy Briefing,” Aug. 24, 2005; recording on file at TFN]

The faith-based initiative in Texas has been touted by the governor’s office in the lead up to this year’s election, but churches and religious organizations have been slow to see actual results. Gov. Perry’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (a part the OneStar Foundation) was created nearly three years ago. And yet the first direct funding awards did not happen until this election year.

One of the first groups to receive a faith-based grant from OneStar includes a member of the governor’s campaign steering committee on its advisory board. Further, the faith-based office has repeatedly used the Texas Restoration Project e-mail list to tout its work to conservative pastors around the state.

Despite administering the governor’s faith-based initiatives, OneStar rejected an open-records request from the Texas Freedom Network seeking information about grant applicants, the criteria for deciding who received the grants and the names of those officials who chose the grant recipients.

Miller was critical of the lack of transparency and accountability of the governor’s faith-based initiative, particularly in light of Kuo’s charges. “Gov. Perry’s faith-based initiative appears to be no better than the shell game in Washington,” Miller said. “Caring for people in need is not a game for churches. Gov. Perry should stop using the faith-based initiative as a campaign prop. And OneStar should let the public know how it decides who gets the money.”

The Texas Freedom Network’s 2002 report on Texas’ experiment with faith-based initiatives revealed that the program was unregulated, prone to favoritism and even dangerous to the very people it purported to serve. The report is available at http://www.tfn.org/religiousfreedom/faithbased/.