Faith-Based Aid Thriving in Spite of Congress

For the past four years, President Bush has failed to persuade Congress to approve his faith-based initiatives (search) designed to increase government support through grants and tax deductions for faith-based groups that care for the homeless, the addicted and the imprisoned.

But even without congressional progress, the president's efforts haven't gone to waste.

States and cities now relying on faith-based groups to provide social services to the poor are in the center of a quiet revolution.

"You have now 19 governors who have established faith-based offices right there in their own governor's offices. That wasn't true five or six or seven years ago. One hundred-eighty mayors have done the same thing," said Joseph Loconte, an expert in faith-based and church-state issues at the Heritage Foundation (search).

Bush has lobbied Congress aggressively to expand federal support for faith-based groups.

"If we have a social objective and you've got people of faith helping achieve that objective, doesn't it make sense for the government to not fear faith, but to welcome faith in meeting common goals?" Bush asked an audience in Los Angeles last March.

Congress has ignored the president's appeals for four years. Experts predict that attitude will continue.

"They're going to be worried about government getting caught up in the business of religion, and overcoming the separation between the two," said John Samples, director of the Cato Institute's Center for Representative Government (search).

But Congress is one part of the story. Another is a cultural shift that some experts say has been set in motion by the president's persistent advocacy.

"I think there has been a sea change outside Washington, largely by the president's use of the bully pulpit and executive orders," Loconte said. "It's now OK for government leaders at all levels to partner with the faith community in all kinds of ways."

One Florida prison fellowship gained accesss to federal funds two years ago when the president side-stepped Congress with executive orders freeing up federal funds and giving groups the right to discriminate in hiring based on religious faith. Other groups have also benefitted from the order.

Republicans complained bitterly when President Clinton used executive orders to circumvent Congress. They've said nothing about Bush's faith-based executive orders, a real contradiction according to Samples.

"If you want limited government, if you want responsible government, the president running around making all kinds of policies on his own account is not really consistent with that idea," Samples said.

Recent research indicates faith-based groups outperform social service bureaucracies. The president would like to expand that aid by giving faith-based groups access to federal funds and tax credits.

Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Major Garrett.