Gov't Officials Highlight Importance of Faith-Based Groups

The White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI) highlighted Tuesday the importance of the future and continuing need for faith-based organizations to equip and better respond themselves to face worldwide disasters.

At a conference titled "Partnerships in Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery: The Role of Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Building Resilient Communities," the OFBCI said it was important for government organizations to correspond closely with faith-based groups to help communities grapple with disaster control programs.

"In the aftermath of disaster, America's armies of compassion are among the first responders extending a hand to their neighbors and helping rebuild distressed communities. Today, we applaud these compassionate Americans and explore innovative partnerships to strengthen their service," said OFBCI Director Jay Hein in a statement.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who was also among those in attendance, added that Bush's faith-based initiatives – along with their "established role in the community, existing infrastructure, and unique ability to mobilize resources and human capital" – would continue to be crucial in helping communities respond to disasters in efficient and self sustaining ways.

"Faith-based and community organizations can play a vital role in planning, preparedness and response efforts, and we'll continue to work closely with them," Chertoff said in statement.

Chertoff added that faith-based initiatives would continue to be effective only with proper outreach and close cooperation with federal organizations at the state, city, and local level so that communities could be quick to respond in crisis.

Bush's faith-based initiatives – which first launched in June 2001 after the president entered office – have channeled millions of dollars into non-profit and charity organizations for their efforts to grapple with natural disasters.

Though critics have opposed Bush's faith-based initiatives programs, arguing that federal funding for church-run organizations violates the separation between church and state, Bush has long argued that they are effective and friendly to local communities.

According to the Rockefeller Institute, the number of faith-based programs that received federal funding increased from 665 in 2002 to 762 in 2004.