This editorial appeared in Friday's Los Angeles Times:
One of the Bush administration's first proposals was to increase the role of religious groups in social programs. This quick start was a clear signal of its importance. The plan met with skepticism from the beginning, however, and this week it hit more opposition in Congress before clearing a hurdle Thursday in the House. Even though faith-based organizations have a long history of delivering social services, this was the new administration's signature statement on "compassionate conservatism" and the shortcomings of government bureaucracy. Months into the debate, the proposal has been scaled back. It had a rough week in Congress, where moderate Republicans voiced concern about discrimination in hiring by religious groups before smoothing over differences with more conservative colleagues. But they made enough noise to ensure much closer scrutiny in the Senate. The administration was too hasty out of the gate on a program that is enormously complex. Experience with welfare reform has shown that it takes time to craft any plan in which religious groups get federal money to deliver services such as housing, job training and crime prevention. California is still working out regulations for contracts between its counties and religious organizations. Some of the issues before the states are the very ones raising doubts in Congress, such as job discrimination or subjecting recipients to proselytizing.
In its eagerness, the administration didn't pay sufficient attention to concerns about whether, for example, gays would be excluded from jobs on religious grounds. It would have been better to think through civil rights concerns before announcing such a sweeping initiative. One lesson for the Bush team is that Washington is not Texas. While the relatively homogeneous political landscape of Bush's home state may have eased the mobilization of religious groups in social programs, the nation is much more diverse. The White House, in its eagerness, failed to reckon how political this issue would become on a national stage. The slowdown, however, may produce a better program, one more suited to the mosaic of the United States.
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