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Book Examines President’s
Plan for Faith-Based Initiatives

Posted April 26, 2004

HOLLAND – A new book co-authored by Dr. David K. Ryden of the Hope College political science faculty considers the development and struggles of President George W. Bush’s effort to extend government funding to religious charitable groups.

The president sought legislation allowing faith-based organizations that deliver social services to compete for federal funding on the same basis as other non-profit organizations. The expressed intention, Ryden noted, was to provide resources to local agencies that had proven themselves effective in meeting community needs. The proposal was also designed to assure that the faith-based organizations wouldn’t need to compromise their religious mission or identity to receive funding. Critics, Ryden said, worried that the approach would blur the separation of church and state, and that it would ultimately serve the agenda of the religious right.

The book, “Of Little Faith: The Politics of George W. Bush’s Faith-Based Initiatives,” follows the evolution of the plan from the campaign for the presidency, through congressional votes and its legislative failure, to the present.

“The legislative effort was a failure, and probably won’t move forward any time soon,” Ryden said. “However, the book addresses how the president, upon encountering defeat legislatively, has used executive order and administrative action to essentially accomplish most of his goals. Of course, executive order does not have the same permanency as legislation, and who knows what would happen under a Kerry administration, for example. Finally, the book describes how the battle is now moving into the judicial realm, as programs are now finding themselves the subject of litigation."

The authors also reflect on how political rhetoric, infighting and poor communication led to the legislative failure of the president’s faith-based strategy, and consider more effective approaches for the future. In addition, the book grapples with the larger issue of how religion and policy mix in American politics and culture.

Ryden wrote the book with Dr. Amy E. Black, who is an assistant professor of politics and international relations at Wheaton College in Illinois, and Dr. Douglas L. Koopman, a 1979 Hope graduate who is a professor of political science and director of the Center for Social Research at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. It is part of the “Religion and Politics Series” published by Georgetown University Press.

In reviewing the volume, the former director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, Dr. John J. DiIulio Jr., praised the three authors “for their tough-minded but balanced, critical yet constructive analysis and conclusions.”

“This lively, lucid, and timely book chronicles how, during the first year of the Bush faith initiative, a seemingly deep and growing consensus favoring public support for community-serving sacred places that serve civic purposes was succeeded by battles between religious ‘purists’ and ‘pragmatists,’ and led to legislative politics that were far from bipartisan,” said DiIulio, who is a member of the political science faculty at the University of Pennsylvania.

Ryden has been a member of the Hope faculty since 1994. He was named the college’s first “Towsley Research Scholar” in 1997, receiving support for four years for his ongoing research on the legal relationship between religion and politics in America. Ryden’s courses at Hope have included a Senior Seminar on religion and politics.

His publications include the 1996 book “Representation in Crisis: The Constitution, Interest Groups, and Political Parties” and the 2000 book “The U.S. Supreme Court and the Electoral Process.”

Ryden holds a bachelor’s degree from Concordia College and his doctorate from The Catholic University of America. He also holds a law degree from the University of Minnesota, and practiced law full-time prior to pursuing graduate work in American politics.

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