Faith-Based Finagling




A

fter
more than two years of haggling, in early April the Senate passed
the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Act of 2003 (S.
476), a severely stripped-down version of President Bush’s
highly-touted faith-based initiative. While the House has yet to
pass its version of a faith-based bill, the proposals most noxious
element, the charitable choice exemption, will remain on the cutting
room floor.


Although
the president’s full faith-based initiative failed to generate
enough Congressional or public support, the core of his project
is alive and well as Administration-driven, faith-based programs
move forward  at a steady clip. 


The
passage of the CARE Act by the Senate resulted from a carefully
crafted compromise engineered by Senators Rick Santorum (R-PA) and
Joe Lieberman (D-CT). The bill grants new tax breaks for donations
to religious and other charities; gives $1.4 billion in subsidies
to a variety of social service programs through the Social Services
Block Grant program for fiscal years 2003 and 2004; and provides
$150 million in technical assistance grants to help small charities
apply for grants and expand their community outreach.  


In
addition, in what Focus on the Family characterizes as a provision
“tucked inside the legislation,” the CARE Act “erases
the distinction between [grassroots lobbying and what is known as
direct lobbying] allowing more time and money to be spent on grassroots
lobbying.” 


While
President Bush admitted that the new bill fell short of his goal
of more government funding for faith-based programs, in a written
statement he commended “the Senate for acting in a bipartisan
way to pass legislation that will help us meet our shared goal of
better serving Americans in need. This legislation contains key
elements of the faith-based initiative that I proposed more than
two years ago to encourage more charitable giving and rally the
armies of compassion that exist in communities all across America.” 


Ken
Connor, of the Washington, DC-based Family Research Council, declared
that the president’s faith-based initiative had “all but
fizzled in the Senate. Mr. Bush’s signature plan to allow religious
and faith-based groups to compete equally for federal funding has
been whittled down to almost nothing. Not even faith remains in
the faith-based initiative, as anti-discrimination protections to
allow groups to maintain their religious character have been dropped
at the insistence of Democrats.” 


Despite
disappointment among some on the Religious Right, work on the president’s
faith-based initiative is moving ahead. Seven government agencies—the
Departments of Justice, Agriculture, Education, Labor, Health and
Human Services, Housing and Urban Development and the Agency for
International Development—have established Centers for Faith-Based
and Community Initiatives. The object of these Centers is “to
promote the Administration’s faith-based and community agenda
by changing how the federal government op- erates,” according
to the White House website. 


Less
than ten days after his inauguration, President Bush, surrounded
by clergy representing a number of different faiths, issued an executive
order that created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community
Initiatives (OFB- CI). The president appointed longtime criminologist
and political scientist John DiIulio to head the operation. The
initiative had two primarily objectives: (1) Removing “barriers”
prohibiting faith-based organizations from receiving government
funds, and allowing them to provide an array of social services;
and (2) offering tax incen- tives to encourage greater chari- table
giving. 


The
subtext of the president’s initiative was characterized by
Lewis C. Daly of the Institute for Democracy Studies, as an ambitious
proposal “to transfer a sweeping range of government social
services directly into the hands of America’s churches.” 


Prominent
conservatives and liberals were quick to voice their opposition:
Conservatives were alarmed that the Church of Scientology, the Nation
of Islam, the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, and
other organizations of their ilk would now become eligible for government
grants. Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s
Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said he wouldn’t touch
faith-based money “with the proverbial ten-foot pole.”
Civil liberties organizations and gay rights groups were concerned
that the initiative would further blur the lines of separation between
church and state, as well as the potential for discriminatory hiring
practices by religious organizations that are fundamentally op-
posed to hiring gays and lesbians. 


The
initiative suffered a string of setbacks. By July 2001, DiIulio
resigned and a few months later Jim Towey was appointed new director
of OFBCI. The office was placed under the wing of John Bridgeland,
who had been appointed to head of the U.S. Freedom Corps. A major
crisis unfolded when the

Washington Post

revealed that top
administration officials had tried to solicit support from the Salvation
Army by offering a firm commitment that any legislation the White
House supported would allow religious organizations to sidestep
state and local anti-discrimination measures barring discriminatory
hiring practices on the basis of sexual orientation. 


An
early March forum, “The Faith-Based Initiative Two Years Later:
Examining its Potential, Progress and Problems,” offered a
progress report on two years in the life of the faith-based initiative.
Sponsored by the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy
and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a project of the
Rockefeller Institute of Government, the pros and cons of faith-
based initiatives were debated by Stanley Carlson-Thies, who worked
in the White House Office of Faith- Based and Community Initiatives
from February 2001 to May 2002, and the Rev. Barry Lynn, the executive
director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. 


In introductory
remarks, Richard Nathan, director of the Rockefeller Institute of
Government, noted that participation by religious groups in the
provision of social services “is a very high priority for this
president and this Administration. It shows you what the bully pulpit
can do to energize groups and to create tremendous interest in how
faith groups can help deal with social issues.” 


Carlson-Thies
pointed out that long before there was a Bush administration “the
government was funding child and family-serving agencies that were
expressly faith- based, in terms of what they displayed on their
walls, prayers over meals, encouraging discussion of religious matters,
and giving preference to staff of the same faith, and so on.” 


The
controversial “Charitable Choice” initiative—inserted
by then-Senator John Ashcroft into the Personal Responsibility and
Work Opportunity Act  in 1996, which allowed religious organizations
to infuse religious beliefs into service programs while still receiving
government funding—was no longer “just a debate topic,”
Carlson-Theis said. It is “a public policy innovation that’s
already reshaping how federally funded services are delivered at
the state and local levels.” 


In
its report “Leaving Our Children Behind: Welfare Reform and
the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community,” the
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Policy Institute said
“charitable choice” demanded “no fiscal accountability,”
had “no requirement that religious institutions not discriminate,”
and provided “no safeguard against recipients of social services
being subjected to proselytizing and other forms of coercive activity.” 


Carlson-Thies
participated in the writing of “The Unlevel Playing Field:
Barriers to Participation by Faith-Based and Community Organizations
in Federal Social Service Programs,” a White House document
that tried to turn the discussion on faith-based initiatives away
from whether they violated the principle of the separation of church
and state towards charges that the government was discriminating
against faith-based organizations. He pointed out that Bush’s
project was essentially engaged in “renegotiating the church-state
boundaries [which] is one key part of renegotiating the relationship
between government and civil society, and such renegotiations are
taking place in many countries.” 


A
critical question about faith-based initiatives is whether these
programs work as well as or better than secularly run programs?
Carol DeVita of the Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits
and Philanthropy recently told the Salt Lake City’s

Desert
News,

“the jury’s still out” on this and other
important questions since there hasn’t been a study yet of
the content of faith-based programs that are receiving government
grants. 


Supporters
of the initiative claim to have reams of anecdotal evidence, also
known as “these-guys- are-walking-around-feeling-better”
stories. The Rev. Barry Lynn pointed out that given the huge expenditure—coupled
with the fact that appropriations for other services will have to
be cut in order to provide funds for faith-based programs—anecdotal
evidence is an absurd way to measure whether the programs are meeting
its goals. “Science, technology, common sense, and logic [should
be used] in deciding how to distribute scarce funds,” Lynn
said. 


In
one of the most comprehensive studies on faith-based initiatives
to date, the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund found, “After
five years of aggressively implementing the Bush-led Faith- Based
Initiative in Texas, positive results have proven impossible to
document or measure. Evidence points instead to a system that is
unregulated, prone to favoritism and co-mingling of funds, and even
dangerous to the very people it is supposed to serve.” 


According
to the October 2002 report, The Texas Faith-Based Initiative at
Five Years: Warning Signs as President Bush Expands Texas-Style
Program to National Level, “The Faith-Based Initiative has
proven to be a treacherous enterprise for houses of worship, taxpayers,
and people in need alike. So treacherous, in fact, that even the
very legislators who once promoted the Faith-Based Initiative in
Texas have now abandoned the idea.” 



T

he
Civil Rights Act of 1964 contains an exemption that allows churches,
mosques, and synagogues to hire only members of their faith. Last
December, President Bush issued an executive order extending this
exemption to faith- based organizations that receive government
grants to provide a broad array of social services. The


New
York Times

editorialized that the president had “punched
a dangerous hole in the wall between church and state…eas[ing]
the way for religious groups to receive federal funds to run social
services.”  


In
this year’s State of the Union address the president announced
a $600 million voucher for drug- treatment program. Earlier in the
month, the Administration announced its intention to allow public
funds to be spent on rehabilitating church buildings where social
services are offered. The

Washington Post

editorialized on
what appeared to be a new broad-based Administration strategy for
implementing its faith-based agenda: “Once, he [President Bush]
tackled it head-on, as a centerpiece of his compassionate conservatism.
He did it by supporting, say, increased funding for faith-based
groups or tax deductions for charitable contributions. Now he seems
to have retreated to something more like a ‘reinventing government’
strategy, using executive orders and rule changes. For him, this
has the advantage of tackling bureaucratic hostility to faith-based
groups. But for the nation, it has a great disadvantage of ducking
debate on the thicket of central constitutional principles involved.” 


“The
faith-based initiative of this administration is a lot more than
a specific piece of legislation…. To announce it is dead in its
tracks is not true at all,” said Michael S. Joyce, president
of the Foundation for Community and Faith Centered Enterprise (FCFE),
and longtime supporter of faith-based initiatives. 


Joyce,
who helped fund a number of faith-based projects when he headed
the conservative Harry and Lynde Bradley Foundation, understands
that the battle over the separation of church and state, “charitable
choice,” and government funding of religious organizations
will not end with the passage and signing of the CARE Act. The Administration
will accept the watered- down CARE Act because it recognizes that
it is all it could achieve at this time. Besides, according to the
Associated Press, Senator Santorum promised “to revisit the
issue when a bill renewing the welfare program comes to the floor
later this year.”












Bill
Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative movements.