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TIME'S Tamala Edwards on faith-based initiatives

Tamala Edwards is a panelist on CNN's Take 5. She is a New York-based senior writer for TIME magazine, covering politics, society and breaking news.

CNN: Welcome to Newsroom Tam Edwards. Thanks for joining us today.

TAMALA EDWARDS: Hey! Glad to be here!

CNN: President Bush's so-called "faith-based" initiative passed in the House yesterday. In their bill, how would such a plan be implemented?

EDWARDS: Well, first, they need to get through the Senate, and that's going to be hard. The Senate is controlled by Democrats, who are skeptical about the bill, particularly provisions that allow faith-based groups to discriminate against people of other religions or certain lifestyles, like homosexuality. But, if the bill does finally get through the Senate, what will be interesting is to see what happens in conference, where the House and the Senate try to reconcile their bills. The Senate version would probably be more liberal than the House version, and J.C. Watts, a Republican in the House who got other Republicans to vote for it, would have to make good on his promise to moderate the House version in conference.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: In the bill, who has the responsibility to maintain clear separation of church and state?

Bush cheers House passage of 'faith-based'  

EDWARDS: That's a great question. That has not been finalized. Probably what would happen if the law passed, is you would see lawsuits that get to the Supreme Court over the provision delineating whether or not the law would be upheld.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Tamala, do you think the "faith-based" funds will be distributed equally to all religions, or just Christian-based?

Take 5  

EDWARDS: It's hard to tell, until the law is implemented. The Bush administration says they'd administer it fairly, but one would imagine that probably Christian and Jewish groups would be more likely to get larger shares of the pie, than say people of the Bahai faith. That's likely to be another source of contention. That gets into the question of what is a legitimate religion, and could someone just start up a "religion" and then receive funding.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Isn't it true that church and state is a non-issue because the government is not sponsoring a religion?

EDWARDS: No, it's still an issue if the federal government is giving funds to religious groups for social programs, rather than leaving it in completely private hands.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: With federal money, comes accountability and control. How will Christian groups, particularly, give aid without recruiting new worshipers? And wouldn't that violate the Constitution?

EDWARDS: Again, what is so tough is that we're at the beginning of the process. Until we have a final bill, and it's implemented, we won't really know. We would imagine there will be some things in the final bill that call for aid to be dispersed in a non-discriminatory way. But in terms of hiring, already we see groups tipping their hand that they are going to be very specific in who they do and don't want on staff. It's not clear to me if you can regulate that, and how.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Is opposition ready with legal briefs to challenge the faith-based bill if it passes?

EDWARDS: I don't know, but I would guess yes.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Is the courtship of the Hispanic vote by Bush an open concession that he will not have the Black vote in any election? Why have the Republicans failed so miserably?

EDWARDS: I don't think Bush sees it as an either/or. All projections show that the Latino vote will be very important in 2004, and both parties would be wise to court them. At the same time, I expect Bush to also try to win over black voters, even though he and his advisers will probably count on low turnout. They won't build their house on that sand. But if you look at some of his appointments in places like the Justice Department, it's clear that he's appointing high level African Americans, and I'm sure that's meant to send a message to that community.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Tamala, shouldn't Colin Powell's appointment as the first African American secretary of state help gain black votes for Republicans?

EDWARDS: Absolutely. As Powell continues to have a very visible role, and remains a popular politician, and actively campaigns for the president in the next election, it should help him with black voters, and indeed voters of all races.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: But don't you think Colin Powell has been rejected by the majority of black voters as a non-representative figure?

EDWARDS: Is he a figure of the old civil rights establishment? No. But if you look at figures, it shows blacks, particularly younger blacks, are leaning more towards being independent, rather than affiliated with either party. I think that many of them are open to being persuaded by Powell.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What do you think of the new law replacing affirmative action in California for the UC system whereby the top 12 percent of any school can go to UC from community college?

EDWARDS: I'm not surprised. The UC board had made clear that they were looking for a way to take race and class and other things into consideration.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Hi Tam, when it has been a busy news week, how are the topics of the show chosen?

EDWARDS: The same way every week. There's a big conference call. All week long, people send in ideas. On Friday, we pick final topics.

CNN: Any final thoughts for us today?

EDWARDS: Thanks for chatting, and we look forward to seeing you tomorrow night on Take Five!

CNN: Thanks for joining us today, Tam Edwards.

EDWARDS: Thank you!

Tamala Edwards joined the Newsroom via telephone from New York. CNN provided a typist for her. The above is an edited transcript of the interview on Friday, July 20, 2001.

• Take 5
• Tamala Edwards Bio

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