|| For states, faith-based funding no big
By JOE FEUERHERD
Acceptance of taxpayer-funded services administered by
church-sponsored groups runs high at the state level, even as Washington policy
makers debate the finer constitutional questions of just how government should
interact with faith-based organizations.
In conservative Florida, for example, everybody seems
comfortable with this, says Robert Crew, a Florida State University
political science professor. Nobody has sued anybody over anything,
In more liberal New Jersey the story is similar:
Theres an acceptance -- and not a grudging one -- of faith-based
organizations providing social services with government funding, said
Richard Roper, a consultant with the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare
Crew and Roper are among the dozens of state-based researchers
working with the Roundtable to determine what access church-based groups have
to state grants, and what, if any, obstacles they face in pursuing their
mission. Among preliminary findings discussed at an Oct. 23 conference:
- Church-state concerns are a non-issue in Maryland, where the
primary providers of government-supported day care centers for the poor are
religious organizations. Likewise, in Nebraska, 6 to 7 percent of the
states 940 social service contracts go to readily
identifiable faith-based groups. The reaction of state officials
presented with church-state concerns? They say, Im not sure why we
want to be concerned with all that -- its not on our radar screen,
according to Roundtable researcher Dale Krane, a University of Nebraska
- Employment discrimination by faith-based social service
providers -- Catholics hiring only Catholics, for example, to distribute food
at a soup kitchen -- has yet to surface as a significant issue in the states.
By contrast, groups opposing President Bushs Faith-Based Initiative want
to eliminate exemptions that allow taxpayer-supported church-affiliated
organizations to favor their co-religionists in hiring. One potentially ironic
result of the congressional debate, said Krane, is that church groups may face
additional scrutiny of their hiring practices at the state level because the
issue has become high profile in Washington.
- Some faith-based organizations are concerned that government
funding will jeopardize the character of their organizations.
Theres a high level of anxiety among smaller faith-based
groups that government funds will result in a loss of control as to how
they provide services, said Roper.
- Large faith-based social service providers with a substantial
track record of service -- such as Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social
Services -- are skilled at working with government funders. Smaller
congregation-based providers, by contrast, are just beginning to work directly
with government to deal with problems on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis.
To their benefit, said Feather Houstoun, Pennsylvania secretary of public
welfare, these churches, synagogues and mosques have deep roots in the
community, though they frequently are not equipped to compete
against non-profit groups with more experience providing social services.
Tricky issues do arise. For example, can a taxpayer-supported
church-run drug rehabilitation program offer a prayer service for recovering
addicts? Such programs must be voluntary and offered in a different location
and at a separate time from the government-sponsored assistance, said Brent
Orrell, director of the U.S. Department of Labors recently established
Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
And theres apparently a tacit acceptance of employment
discrimination among government funders and faith-based organizations -- a
dont-ask-dont-tell-policy for the armies of compassion. Commented
one advocate for Catholic social service programs: How many non-Catholic
directors of Catholic Charities programs do you see? Thats an area
best left unexplored, said the advocate.
Joe Feuerherd is NCR Washington correspondent. His
e-mail address is email@example.com
National Catholic Reporter, November 15,