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Federal Funding of Faith-Based Services

Why Not Give Federal Funds to Churches?

By

Jan 14 2005
"The government gave more than $1 billion in 2003 to organizations it considers 'faith-based,' with some going to programs where prayer and spiritual guidance are central…" recently reported Laura Meckler, AP writer.

What's wrong with federal funding of faith-based social services groups? What's actually wrong with providing faith-based homeless, hunger and rehabilitation service programs equal footing with other groups when applying for grants?

At first sound byte, the idea is inspired. Most religious groups labor with love and fervor to serve humanity. It seems only fair that religious organizations not be handicapped by discrimination in the race against secular groups for federal funds.

In January 2001, President Bush created, via Executive Order, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Since then, Centers for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives were established at five federal agencies, assistance and guidebooks were provided to religious groups to help them to apply for federal funds, and websites were created for speedy access to applications.

And in February 2004, the President issued an Executive Order earmarking an astonishing $3.7 billion to be doled out to faith-based and other organizations.

Apparently, Bush's faith-based initiative was never intended to give religious-related groups equal footing in the federal grants process. Bush's faith-based initiative was conceived to be the centerpiece of his administration's domestic agenda, spearheading the final attack on the New Deal and the War on Poverty by replacing, not augmenting, federal social services.

Again from AP: "President Bush has succeeded in opening the checkbooks of five federal departments to religious organizations....

Federal regulations now allow federal agencies to directly fund churches and other religious groups. Bush acted alone to rewrite these regulations after failing to persuade Congress to change the law.

That's not enough, said Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. An additional $40 billion in federal money is given out by state governments, he said, and many states do not realize that federal rules now allow them to fund these organizations. "

With neither Congressional approval nor oversight, and without Judicial review, President Bush has successfully implemented his vision of doling out multi-billions of federal taxpayer funds annually to faith-based groups to supplement or support their social services programs.

What changed? What occurred to cause faith-based groups and programs to now become eligible to apply for federal grant programs?

What changed was the President Bush's first Executive Order of his presidency authorizing establishment of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, followed by H.R. 1261. "Community Services Block Grant Act of 2003 - Job Training Reauthorization/Bill to Provide Federal Assistance of Job Training Programs and Allow Providers of Job Training to Discriminate by Using an Individual's Religion as a Factor in Hiring Decisions."

It's commonly referred to as the "right-to-discriminate" provision because it allows a faith-based service provider to follow its own dictates and not federal guidelines, in its hiring practices for federally-funded programs. It allows churches to adhere solely to their interpretation of God's will in their program's hiring decisions, and not federal regulations.

$1 billion of taxpayers' funds were gifted in 2003 to social services providers who may freely discriminate in their hiring practices when using those funds.

Churches have traditionally been reluctant to accept government funds as pastors, priests, rabbis, and elders feared that to do so, they would need to change their culture or violate religious tenets to be in compliance with employment law.

With the passage of H.R. 1261, faith-based social service providers are no longer reluctant to accept federal funds for their programs, as they are allowed to discriminate in their employment practices on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, origin, sexual preference or any other factor they deem relevant.

George Bush has effectively inoculated faith-based social service providers from complying with federal employment requirements as a backdoor method of implementing a new American social order that permits discrimination on any basis in the workplace.

This situation greatly concerns supporters of the separation of church and state, and to those opposed to discrimination in the workplace. Many liberals believe that the present situation violates both concerns.

That's what's presently wrong with federal funding of faith-based social services groups. Many believe that the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and its funding of faith-based groups, requires closer scrutiny by taxpayers, legislators and the judicial system.

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