May 20, 2001 -- President Bush today called on religious groups to join the government in America's war on poverty.
"Our society must enlist, equip and empower idealistic Americans in works of compassion that only they can provide," he told Notre Dame graduates during his commencement address.
Bush urged a $50 million increase in federal funds for home-building programs like Habitat for Humanity. And he said religious groups should be allowed to compete for federal drug treatment money.
The President promised that the government could keep church and state separate. But critics remain wary.
"Many christian conservatives are concerned that the government will start to have some say in religious matters or begin to regulate religion through the faith-based initiative," said Robert Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Praise for Johnson, Clinton
There were some surprises from Mr. Bush today. He praised two of his democratic predecessors — President Johnson for embarking on the war on poverty 37 years ago and President Clinton for signing the 1996 welfare reform law.
The graduates also heard President Bush offer a rare criticism of the business community, which he falted for not donating money to the religious groups.
"The federal government will not discriminate against faith-based organizations and neither should corporate America," he told the graduates.
The President's choice of one of America's largest catholic universities to push his faith-based program was no accident.
During the campaign, Bush alienated some catholics by speaking at Bob Jones University.
Now the Bush administration is reaching out to catholics for political support and for help getting the president's religious initiative back on track.