Good morning. This month, in my travels around the country, I am talking about values that make communities strong and our Nation unique. One of those essential American values is compassion.
A little more than a week ago, I visited a Habitat for Humanity building site, where volunteers were helping a family find the dignity of owning a home. Every community offers its own examples of service: shelters for battered women and children; crisis pregnancy centers; treatment for drug addiction; care for the homeless; hope for those in prison and their families. The groups behind these caring efforts have advantages Government social programs often can't match: the idealism of volunteers and intimate knowledge of the communities they serve and values stronger than the problems they face. A compassionate Government should find ways to support their good works.
Unfortunately, Government often treats charities and community groups as rivals instead of partners, and this week came some new evidence. Soon after I took office, I instructed my Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to examine Federal rules and regulations for discrimination against community and faith-based groups. Five Cabinet agencies now have issued their findings. Their report, entitled "Unlevel Playing Field," documents a Government bias against faith- and communitybased organizations, a bias that exists even when constitutional concerns about church and state have been addressed.
Government administrators restrict religious groups from even applying for funding simply because they are religious. They place artificial limits on what programs and how much funding faith-based groups can apply for. In some cases, they restrict civil rights these faith-based and communitybased groups enjoy under Federal law. This is wrong.
Next Wednesday will mark the fifth anniversary of a bipartisan charitable choice legislation. This law says faith-based organizations should be able to compete for some contracts to provide social services. But even this limited charitable choice law has been almost entirely ignored by many Federal administrators. They've done little to help or require State and local governments to involve faith-based providers, as the law requires.
I've appointed advocates in five Cabinet agencies to end this bias, and soon. My Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives is also working closely with groups to help them know their civil rights, know how to effectively apply for funds so their good works can be expanded. We must also broaden charitable choice to more social service areas, removing barriers of discrimination against the participation of faith and community groups. By doing so, we will welcome them to more fully confront the poverty and hopelessness that remain in America.
The House of Representatives took a key step in leveling the playing field by passing my Faith-Based and Community Initiative, which broadens charitable choice and encourages charitable giving. I applaud the bipartisan House vote and urge the Senate to pass that legislation, with the leadership from Senators Joe Lieberman and Rick Santorum. The needs are real. The time to act is as soon as Congress returns to work after Labor Day.
If you agree, let your Senator know, if you see him or her during the congressional recess. Faith-based and community groups cannot replace the work of Government, but with Government's help, they can serve many more people. And my administration is committed to providing that help.
Compassion is one of the values that builds communities of character, because every community of character must be a community of service.
Thank you for listening.