US churches join presidential drug prevention campaign

July 23, 2003

The National Council of Churches (NCC) and other US religious groups are joining a campaign by the administration of President George W. Bush to prevent drug abuse among young people.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy and the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives worked with members of the US faith community to develop a Web site and a series of publications entitled "Pathways to Prevention: Guiding Youth to Wise Decisions."

"Faith plays an important role when it comes to teen marijuana prevention," said John Walters, director of National Drug Control Policy, at a 10 July news conference. He urged youth ministers, volunteers and religious leaders to integrate drug prevention messages into youth programs and sermons.

The campaign materials, adapted for many faiths, respond to a need not being met, officials from the office of the president and Christian, Islamic and Jewish leaders said at the news conference held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Administration officials said clergy were enormously influential in such matters, but that often they did not have the tools to discuss drug- and substance-abuse related issues with young people.

"The reality is a lot of people don't know how to talk about these issues," said Jim Towey, the director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Brenda Girton-Mitchell, the NCC's associate general secretary for public policy, and a one-time Sunday School teacher, was often asked by her students about drugs. She did not know how to respond, in part because she didn't know what her students' parents were telling them. "I often prayed for the right words to say and looked to Scriptures," she said.

Despite some disagreements with the Bush administration on a number of issues, most recently in opposing the US-led war in Iraq, the NCC has supported elements of the administration's "faith-based initiative" program under which US religious groups are being asked to expand their role in providing social services and to work with the administration on a number of issues.