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December 09, 2004

Faith-based programs

Steven Shiffrin: December 9, 2004

What should the left’s position be on financial aid to religious charitable work (the so-called “faith-based” programs)? The question needs to be divided. Government has long provided financial aid to organizations like Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services on the conditions that such organizations must not discriminate on the basis of religion with respect to clients or employees and may not proselytize while providing services. The aid to such organizations has not been trivial. For example, in the early 1990's, 65% of the almost $2 billion Catholic Charities budget came from government contracts. As John J. DiLulio, Jr., observes  “[L]arge national religious nonprofit organizations such as Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army, and the Jewish Federations have received tens of billions of dollars in government grants.” Government by Proxy: A Faithful Overview, 116 Harv. L. Rev. 1271, 1274 (2003).

Most evangelical churches (be they African-American or Caucasian) have been unwilling to accept the conditions concerning discrimination and proselytizing. To oversimplify somewhat, President Bush’s policy is to drop the conditions (assuming alternative suppliers of aid are available to people who would be denied aid by one church or another),  thus broadening the class of organizational recipients. Bush’s goals are  to end the discriminatory effect of the current policy and  to aid organizations he thinks are effective together with a political eye on the hope of providing some appeal to African-American voters and of rewarding the constituency of white evangelicals.

The Bush policy might or might not be declared illegal by the current Supreme Court. Its possibilities of being upheld increase if the aid comes in the form of vouchers. Regardless of the Court’s view, however, the Bush policy runs counter to many values that underlie the Establishment Clause including: forcing taxpayers to support religious ideologies to which they are opposed, making decisions between and among religions (because some charities might be deemed more worthy than others and partisan considerations might enter into the decisions), and  compromising the integrity of religious organizations including the stifling of religious criticism of the state in order to curry favor. Some of these values are undercut by the current policy, a policy that has disproportionate impact in favor of some religious traditions.

What should the left’s view be? It seems to me that abandoning governmental support for organizations like Catholic Charities would be enormously damaging to the poor. In other words, in the trade off between Establishment Clause values and helping the poor, I would not further aggravate the disgraceful way in which this nation treats the poor. What about dropping the conditions and permitting the subsidizing of more religious organizations? From the perspective of poverty policy, such a move might create an alliance of left and right that would  provide greater support for the poor. The poor could certainly use greater support and a stronger constituency. On the other hand, in addition to the serious Establishment Clause worries, one might fairly be concerned that the human face of church aid might be transformed into bureaucracies if increased funds caused them to expand; the case for their performance in dispensing aid has not been tested by audits (and subjecting them to audits could compromise Establishment Clause values). Finally, the social science literature and the experience with the House of Representatives in the last four years gives rise to concerns that the distribution of aid through states would discriminate against Black Evangelicals. I do not mean to endorse the Bush policy, but I believe the left should give it more serious consideration than I believe it has to date. Waiting for the day in which help for the poor comes in the form of revitalized government welfare programs could be akin to waiting for Godot.


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» Faith Based Initiative from Moonage Political Webdream
Left2Right asks and states:What should the left’s position be on financial aid to religious charitable work (the so-called “faith-based” programs)? The question needs to be divided. Government has long provided financial aid to organizations like... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 10, 2004 10:34:41 AM

» Experience from The Salvation Army from Carryon Williams
Left2Right asks what the liberal position on "faith-based" government programs should be. I've been a volunteer for The Salvation Army for five or six years, including several months as a cook in a soup kitchen, and one night a week helping out at... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 10, 2004 5:05:05 PM

» Ransoming the poor from Majikthise
Currently, churches* who seek government contracts must promise not to discriminate or proselytize when they deliver social services. Sects who reject these reasonable terms disqualify themselves for federal support. Now, Bush wants to loosen the stand... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 10, 2004 6:29:08 PM

» Liberal Attraction to the "Faith-Based Initiative" from RANDOM THOUGHTS on Politics
Dalliance with the idea of supporting Bush's faith-based initiative has arisen once more, this time by Steve Shiffrin on the new collective blog Left2Right. I posted on this issue in mid-November when it came up on MyDD and Pandagon. . [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 11, 2004 4:19:01 AM


Posted by: Martin A. Knight

    Finally, the social science literature and the experience with the House of Representatives in the last four years gives rise to concerns that the distribution of aid through states would discriminate against Black Evangelicals.

This sounds like a subtle accusation of racism to me ... But I would like a little bit more of a clarification before I settle it in my mind as such. One of the reasons we on the Right tend to ignore the Left nowadays is the constant accusations of racism whether the subject actually has to do with race or not.

Exactly what makes you think that Black Evangelicals would be discriminated against by the House of Representatives. And when you say "four years", you're definitely alluding that this something to do with the Bush Administration.

Please explain ...

Posted by: Martin A. Knight | Dec 9, 2004 5:30:33 PM

Posted by: Dallas

What should the left’s position be on financial aid to religious charitable work . . .

I began reading this site because I thought the Lefties were interested in a dialogue. But, I've come to the conclusion the organizers see it as little more than a laboratory for improving their rhetoric.

Posted by: Dallas | Dec 9, 2004 5:56:02 PM

Posted by: frankly0

I began reading this site because I thought the Lefties were interested in a dialogue. But, I've come to the conclusion the organizers see it as little more than a laboratory for improving their rhetoric.

Honestly, as a lefty myself, I can't imagine what most of these people really have in mind to do here. Even, maybe especially, the title left2right is inept. Are they expecting to persuade the right? Lecture to the right? Embarrass the right in front of their friends? Pretend to the world that they are really openminded and eager to talk, only to turn around and deplore the incivility of the blogosphere when it doesn't suit their fussy little notions of what appropriate conversation is?

There's a huge pretense that they're interested in dialog, but then they close down comments when, as almost always in blog threads, it deviates from topic? THIS is sign of openmindedness? Highhandedness seems a better way to describe it.

Seriously, are these people blog-ready? Do they really imagine they're going to change the nature of blogs and have a serious conversation with the many kinds of people who inhabit blogs?

Honestly, I wonder if these people have the gonads to get down into a real blog endeavor.

Posted by: frankly0 | Dec 9, 2004 6:21:43 PM

Posted by: Achillea

Let me see if I've got this straight. The current policy is to take tax money (collected regardless of the taxpayer's religion) and distribute it via operations that happen to be constructed/maintained by various organized religions. It is intended to address needs rather than advance creeds, and thus those distributing what is essentially 'secular' money are forbidden to attach a religious connotation to it. Those who can't abide by this (eminently logical) restriction aren't given any of the tax money to distribute.

How is this unfair? If they want to distribute 'faith-based' money, they can collect it from practitioners of their faith. Every church I've ever seen has some variant of the collection plate or alms box.

Posted by: Achillea | Dec 9, 2004 6:36:22 PM

Posted by: S. Weasel

As a righty, I'm okay with Left2Right. It's the "How can the Left get through to the Right?" subhead that rankles. It has a "how can we hammer a goddamn clue through your thick skulls?" feel.

I am, however, willing to give honest dialogue a shot. I've been (mostly) pleasantly surprised at the quality of discourse on the threads I've followed. It wouldn't be the first blog I've seen where the comments section was more interesting than the articles. On the other hand, it also wouldn't be the first blog I wandered away from because management was uptight and controlling.

Posted by: S. Weasel | Dec 9, 2004 6:36:55 PM

Posted by: Perez

Well, I am I enjoying the site...reading some conservatives stepping up to the plate and defend some of their views has been an eye opener.

I know The Right sits on a proud intellectual tradition; I just have never seen them use it...of late.

The folks of this site should have never made the declaration of their intent (they are professors, with students, and should have known better) and so many of the students wouldn’t have focused on the mission statement instead of the issues.

Posted by: Perez | Dec 9, 2004 6:38:22 PM

Posted by: jcl

Well, I think that the title is fine, basically because it is honest. Hopefully, what goes on in the site causes a reevaluation of it.

Closing off the comments arbitrarily is a little silly. The nature of dialoge is to lead to other subjects, as political issues don't exist in isolation. Perhaps some more reaonsable rules could be established, like comments get closed off after 150 or so comments (at that point it is unlikly that the original topic is the primary focus) or comments are open for 2 or 3 days. But, whatever...its not my site.

Posted by: jcl | Dec 9, 2004 6:45:01 PM

Posted by: Matt Zwolinski

John Tomasi (Political Science, Brown) has an interesting article on this topic.
"Should Good Liberals be Compassionate Conservatives? Egalitarian Liberalism and the Mixing of Church and State."

His answer, BTW, is "yes."

Posted by: Matt Zwolinski | Dec 9, 2004 7:06:07 PM

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce

My sense is that they're closing comment threads that have devolved into bad comment threads. I'm not sure why so many people think the insults against the blogosphere have anything to do with political orientation. I'm a conservative, and I think most of the commenters in the blogosphere (particularly at the more prominent sites) are ignorant, unwilling to listen, rude, and of the opinion that simply saying offensive things will have some effect for good, when the best thing they can do is shut up. This is true of the average commenter at Democratic Underground, Little Green Footballs, Atrios, Wizbang, Daily Kos, Blogs for Bush, and many other sites. Some sites have a lower troll percentage, e.g. Evangelical Outpost, World Magazine, Dean Esmay, Kevin Drum, Matt Yglesias, Crooked Timber. I think the signal to noise ratio at those sites is still below 50%. I'm sure if Volokh Conspiracy, Power Line, Michelle Malkinm, Josh Marshall, Andrew Sullivan, and InstaPundit allowed comments it would be the same.

It seems a number of such people have found their way here. Those who run this site would like to have dialogue, and when a discussion ceases to be one there's no point in allowing their site (which really is theirs) to continue in such a vein. I myself would just ban IP addresses of offenders, but this is their site, and if they choose to let these people hijack every single comment thread until it's closed off then they have that right. It's not the willingness to close off discussion that bothers me. It's that such people are tolerated here at all. It's not about left and right. It's about the ability and willingness to read and think about what you read without assuming the worst of the person writing it and the ability to evaluate what's being said without blindly accepting it because you like it. I see very little of any of that in most blog comments on the top sites.

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce | Dec 9, 2004 7:32:33 PM

Posted by: Mona

I'm libertarian-right, and I agree w/ Jeremy Pierce at 7:32. Let thiis blog see how it/we evolves. The conversation asked for is urgently needed.

Posted by: Mona | Dec 9, 2004 8:06:51 PM

Posted by: Steve Shiffrin

With respect to the inquiry about race and faith-based programs. As to the reference to the House, I am influenced by the exposition of Amy E. Black, Douglas L. Koopman & David Ryden, Of Little Faith: The Politics of George W. Bush's Faith-Base Initiatives, a book that appears to be written by three conservatives who do their best to be fair to all sides. But they are scathing about the House's performance: "The faith-based initiative was coceived as a way to improve the lot of the poor and ethnic minorities, but House Republicans reshaped it into a poorly fitted and little appreciated payoff to the GOP's traditional religious base." I do not think this was racist in intent though it was a deeply cynical exercise in symbolic politics that inadvertently, but negligently, undermined faith-based programs. As to the concerns about distribution, if the Congress allows the states to distribute the funds, in many Southern states, there are serious grounds to be concerned about the fairness of the distribution from a racial perspective. In this connection, I would cite John P. Bartkowski & Helen A. Regis, Charitable Choices: Religion, Race, and Poverty in the Post-Welfare Era (New York University Press, New York: 2003)(part of the problem stems from the racially segregated character of the churches and the nature of political power in many Southern states). I do not know how anyone could read that book and not have some concerns. On the other hand, I do not think that faith-based programs need be discriminatory. And the Of Little Faith book convinces me that George Bush has been quite sincere in wanting to help the poor (perhaps, especially the black poor). My point is only that any such programs need to be structured in ways that carefully guard the fairness of the distribution process.

Posted by: Steve Shiffrin | Dec 9, 2004 8:14:04 PM

Posted by: SamChevre

I'm also in agreement with Jeremy Pierce and Mona. My experience with online communities is that the moderation HAS to be strict, or the site becomes a mess of flamewars and trolls where no useful dialogue can take place.

On faith-based programs, it seems to me like if the government is providing people with the means to accomplish X (go to school, buy food, get job training), it ought to be left up to the recipient, as much as possible, where and how to accomplish X. This feature was part of the GI Bill, which seems to have been one of the most successful programs to promote social mobility. The government should let faith-based organizations serve the people who want to be served by such an organization (the controls should impose some objective performance standard, like x% of children in your school can pass the required tests).

Posted by: SamChevre | Dec 9, 2004 8:16:32 PM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Achillea writes "If they want to distribute 'faith-based' money, they can collect it from practitioners of their faith."

I couldn't agree more. Now, will Achillea also support me in my desire to be taxed for only those government programs I have faith in?

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Dec 9, 2004 9:08:41 PM

Posted by: donna

If a program accepts government money, it accepts the restrictions that come with it not to discriminate and not to preach. Otherwise, fund the program privately. Why should the left have any other position on this?

As to commentary and discussion, so far it seems reasonable here.

Posted by: donna | Dec 9, 2004 9:20:49 PM

Posted by: Jeff Licquia

Most people here are concerned about whether the faith-based initiatives are good government policy. Many fewer people are coming at it from the other side: is accepting government money good religious policy?

Tony Campolo, for one, disagrees.

His point is the mirror image of many of the above points. If the state funds church programs, will they be able to keep the promises they make to not interfere with the church's message? If they do now, will they be able to in the future? And if their position changes (whether voluntarily or by the force of court order), will the church programs that are now dependent on federal funds be able to survive their loss? Will they change their message to be more "government-friendly" to keep the cash?

Religious people must consider whether they want to open their programs to this creeping secularism. And secular people need to ask: what advantage does a secular program operating under a religious banner have over a secular program not so encumbered? If overtly religious programs provide benefits that secular ones do not, what is gained by stripping those programs of their religious nature? Or can this tendency towards secularization be countered?

Posted by: Jeff Licquia | Dec 9, 2004 10:38:02 PM

Posted by: GillP

If a faith based program delivers the same results as a secular program, why shouldn't the government fund it?

Posted by: GillP | Dec 9, 2004 10:41:38 PM

Posted by: alex

Here is my question to the supporters of government funding for faith-based programs:

How about government financing of atheism-based programs? Consider it: an organization that would provide food for the poor, provided they listen to a lecture that purports to demonstrate that God does not exist.

Would you support government funding for that?

Posted by: alex | Dec 10, 2004 12:02:03 AM

Posted by: Rob Perelli-Minetti


The tension you describe between a desire to see good done for the (deserving) poor through faith based programs and Establishment Clause issues used to trouble me more than it now does. One of the points which seemed to be generally on another thread was that the personal commitment and caring which are important to helping the poor are not things one can mandate in a government program. Though I don't share their specific theology, I've always been impressed by the Salvation Army as a group of people who are really committed and sincere in their work with the poorest of the poor, honest and efficient with the funds they have to work with. I can't say the same for many government programs.

In looking at loosening the conditions for participation, I think it might be helpful to separate the 'nondiscrimination' condition from the 'nonproselytization' condition. Assuming by nondiscrimination we mean only that the faith-based agency does not discriminate among clients on religous grounds, I think that's a pretty basic requirement for state funds I'd be unwilling to relax. Paradoxically, because it's the condition which goes more to the heart of the Establishment Clause issues, I'd be more willing to let a some proselytizing occur, as long as all the clients had to do was listen.

Posted by: Rob Perelli-Minetti | Dec 10, 2004 12:19:34 AM

Posted by: Achillea

Now, will Achillea also support me in my desire to be taxed for only those government programs I have faith in?

As a moderate libertarian, yes and no. A society/nation is a cooperative endeavor, with its citizens contributing to certain 'common goods' (law enforcement, national defense, infrastructure like roads, etc.). So, if you were, say, even the most devout believer in mass murder, I still wouldn't sign your petition to have some of your tax dollars not go to the cops. ;>

Thinking about it, it strikes me that perhaps the divide between the 'left' and 'right' can be summed up as disagreements as to just which things fall into the category of 'common good.'

Posted by: Achillea | Dec 10, 2004 2:16:59 AM

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Well, even if Achillea and I could agree on what constituted the common good, we still might not be able to agree on how much it should cost or who should pay for it. I acknowledge that police protection and national defense are among those goods it is probably impossible to privatize. But I question the terms "cooperative" and "contribute." My 'contribution' to the state is involuntary and hardly what I'd call cooperative.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Dec 10, 2004 7:51:26 AM

Posted by: Josh Dever

"Now, will Achillea also support me in my desire to be taxed for only those government programs I have faith in?"

Well, you got a qualified "yes and no" from Achillea, but it's a straight "no" from me. The thing is, the money that is collected in taxes isn't your money, it is wealth belonging to the people collectively. Allowing you, in particular, to decide what should be done with money belonging to us all would be unjust. (Thus the old saying "failure of taxation is theft".)

Posted by: Josh Dever | Dec 10, 2004 10:08:39 AM

Posted by: Maggie

Josh Denver: "Allowing you, in particular, to decide what should be done with money belonging to us all would be unjust."

Basic Government 101 - Isn't that why we have Congress? They as our representatives decide for the citizenry where the money goes?

Posted by: Maggie | Dec 10, 2004 11:36:45 AM

Posted by: Robin


In re " I'd be more willing to let a some proselytizing occur, as long as all the clients had to do was listen."

Would listening be a precondition for assistance? Presumably state funds are dedicated to the provision of services for the needy, and the constraints on receiving services funded by the state are things like need, nondiscrimination, etc. Having a private actor attach listening to a sermon to this list seems, well, troublesome. Mind you, this is not the same as saying that the faith-based provider cannot proselytize, just that it can't use the funds to mandate that the audience be a captive one, either in the form of receiving benefits or listening as a precondition to receiving future benefits. Or in short, recipients should have the right to services--if they meet the public criteria for receiving services--even if they exit from the ministering part of it.

Posted by: Robin | Dec 10, 2004 11:39:24 AM

Posted by: Henrik Mintis

Al Gore himself proposed increased assistance to Faith-Based Organizations fully five or six years ago, during his own presidential campaign.

Posted by: Henrik Mintis | Dec 10, 2004 11:43:14 AM

Posted by: Rob Perelli-Minetti

Robin: I agree that attaching a sermon as a condition of receiving assistance seems troublesome. It is troublesome. But, sometimes we accept things we find troublesome because we find other goals more important. In this case, my sense is that faith-based programs tend to be more effective than government programs (and more efficient in terms of dollars finding their way into actual help) because the people running them are more likely to be personally committed to the work they're doing: it's a calling more than a job. If it takes letting them preach a sermon as part of the package to enable the poor to benefit from their efforts, then I'm willing as a practical matter to let them.

You say: in short, recipients should have the right to services--if they meet the public criteria for receiving services--even if they exit from the ministering part of it. The problem is that without the faith based organizations (who insist on proselytizing a bit) the services wouldn't be provided, or wouldn't be provided as effectively.

Even if one were to agree that, ideally, entirely value neutral assistance should be provided to all, it's not going to happen. I take that to be Steve Shiffrin's point: given the real world we're in, is it more important to see more aid to the poor, or to take an absolutist position on the Establishment clause issues (which from Steve's post, seem not to be entirely resolved)?

If that's the choice -- and I agree with Steve that it probably is -- then I come down on the side of more help for poor people rather than less. Your mileage may vary, as they say. My perspective is not liberal as is Steve's, but that of a more or less classical liberal and a theologically liberal Protestant who has long been generally suspicious of fundamentalists. Yet, I recognize that they are often the ones (e.g. the Salvation Army) who are often out there doing the good works with the poor, while more socially liberal churches and the unchurched (to avoid arguments about whether people are atheists, deists, pagans or what-have-you) seem to spend more time and effort lobbying for state action than actually going down and doing the work in the trenches. As uncomfortable as I may be with the theology, I respect the commitment and the "walking the walk."

Posted by: Rob Perelli-Minetti | Dec 10, 2004 12:59:29 PM

Posted by: Chris

The intersting thing that is not being discussed with respect to the establishment clause "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

Now comes the questions of what is "religion"? A very narrow 21st century definiton of religion is confined to going to church/synagogue/mosque once a week and preaching.

For almost almost two thousand years "Religion" included a broader definion that included the Corporal Works of Mercy
# To feed the hungry;
# To give drink to the thirsty;
# To clothe the naked;
# To harbour the harbourless;
# To visit the sick;
# To ransom the captive;
# To bury the dead.

With this more traditional definition of religion, the government doing any of these things is in conflict with the establishment clause.

A few posts up Alex questions if folks would complain if the government supported Athiest based programs. They already do, Planned Parenthood and other secular organizations get tons of money from the federal government.

When the government can take you money at the point of a gun and the threat of jail time and religious leaders can only try to us pursuasion the government will always get more money. People won't have thier own hard earned money available to decide, of their own free will, to give to what they decide, consistent with their faith, are worthy programs and the anti-religious crowd will argue that religion is irrelevant.

I advocate we wean the government away from religion (broad defintion) If it happens that Catholics give 100% times more money to homeless shelters than Athiest do, I have no problem with a condition of staying at he homeless shelter being that you have to listen to the preaching. If the Athiests don't like this, donate money, set up homeless shelters, get involved, actually interact with homeless people and proseltyze their faith that there is no God.

Posted by: Chris | Dec 10, 2004 2:34:52 PM

Posted by: Robin


I'm not sure of this: the problem is that without the faith based organizations (who insist on proselytizing a bit) the services wouldn't be provided, or wouldn't be provided as effectively.

I have no clue as to the relative efficiencies of different types of actors in the provision of services, public, non-faith based private, non-proselytizing faith based private, proselytizing faith-based private. And I think we do need to have some sense of the effectivness of these, if we want to try to minimize proselytizing qua requirement (as opposed to just a voluntary aspect) all else being equal.

And finally, "while more socially liberal churches and the unchurched . . . seem to spend more time and effort lobbying for state action than actually going down and doing the work in the trenches. As uncomfortable as I may be with the theology, I respect the commitment and the 'walking the walk.'" seems to assume too much. Certainly, the Catholic Church (neither liberal nor fundamentalist) doesn't turn away people who don't submit to proselytizing. I think at this point we do know that a lot of charitable services for the poor are provided for by the churches, but as far as breakdowns, requirements they impose, the scale of each church's efforts, etc., I haven't seen much. As a matter of public policy, it's probably not too much to ask for details, to find out what trade off we have to make, what we don't have to make, and if we have to make them at all. I think that discussions like the one one faith-based provision of services does need more detail before we make decisions. And I'm not even sure about the resilience of the inference that because chruches have provided services more or less more effectively, that only they can do so.

Posted by: Robin | Dec 10, 2004 2:36:59 PM

Posted by: Rob Perelli-Minetti

Robin, I suggested your mileage might vary, and apparently it does. You're questioning Steve Shiffrin's premises in the original post, which form the basis on which he asked his question as to what ought be the practical response to the situation. That's all very well, but it does beg Steve's question. Because you disagree with his premises, it's natural you would thing my answer, which was stated within the framework of Steve's premises, assumes too much. I'm not uncomfortable with Steve's premises, because they're consistent with my own experience, but that's really a very different discussion.

Posted by: Rob Perelli-Minetti | Dec 10, 2004 2:55:34 PM

Posted by: Robin

Steve's premises appear to be that faith based charities are effective in providing publicly funded services to the poor. He cites the example of Catholic and Lutheran charities, the Salvation Army, Jewish Federations. The proselytizing in the provision of publicly funded services and discrimination conditions keep other churches/synagoges/mosques out. And he asks whether we should get more reilgous organizations in by relaxing these conditions. . . and, more widely, "What should the left’s view be?" about relaxing these conditions. He then raises pros and cons, including political manipulation, politically based discrimination, the possible end to discriminatory treatment of religous groups, according to whether they accept the (to me seemingly neutral) conditions or not. And he suggests that in looking at it we should weight helping the poor more than the implemenation of a narrow conception of the establishment clause. Just to see whether we're starting from the same understanding.

All I'm suggesting is that we should look at how much poverty relief bang we get for the public buck from those organizations that will not have conditions placed on them. If there's a tradeoff, which Steve assumes, there's no assumption of the slope, if you will, of the tradeoff. There's perhaps reasons to believe that the trade off is really small in the very set up of the discussion, in the fact that many religious charities do accept the constraints on discrimination and proselytizing. Why couldn't we just expand the amount given to the ones who accept the conditions for them to expand their programs--that seems to entail practically no trade off? I don' know if that's possible either. As with all issues that entail tradeoffs, I just think that we figure out what the necessary trade offs actually are. Surely there's no harm in suggesting that we look at the empirics of the issue more closely.

Posted by: Robin | Dec 10, 2004 3:25:10 PM

Posted by: Rob Perelli-Minetti

I don't so much disagree with your first paragaph as wonder at that point what we're talking about: my original point was yes, I thought it was more important to see more help get to the poor through faith-based programs than to insist on a narrow or absolutist interpretation of the establishment clause. I don't disagree that we should look closely at the effectiveness of every group to which we give monies from the public fisc for poverty relief (and other matters). I think you come down further on the side of being troubled by the establishment clause questions than I do, hence you want more assurance that whatever relaxation you allow is cost-effective. Fair enough. I think Steve's point of bringing a broader selection of faith-based groups into the mix (and there are risks) is that there is some feeling the existing groups either cannot or do not wish to expand further, that their human resources are stretched and cannot be fixed simply by hiring more people -- given the premise discussed on an earlier thread that commitment and caring are important elements of the reason those groups tend to be effective. I haven't seen any suggestion that the Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services or the Salvation Army are to be cut out or replaced, rather that the need is simply great enough that more is needed, and you're simply not going to get support for expanding government entitlement programs and their attendant bureaucracies.

Posted by: Rob Perelli-Minetti | Dec 10, 2004 3:50:44 PM

Posted by: anonymous


Posted by: anonymous | Dec 10, 2004 3:52:00 PM

Posted by: David

While faith-based programs are often claimed to provide more effective services than government-run programs, I have never been presented with any quantitative impact evaluations that demonstrate that these programs perform better. There are numerous anecdotal stories, but I have not seen any scientific evidence. Are there scientific studies that shed light on the effectiveness of faith-based programs?

Posted by: David | Dec 10, 2004 6:31:38 PM

Posted by: Robin

David's objection is one I was raising. There is a "risk", as Rob terms it, that services that the public has decided to deliver to people if they meet a set of criteria will only be delivered if they meet another set of conditions. Private actors determine conditions for the dispensation of public resources above and beyond what public actors have decided. How big a risk is this, I don't know. But before we take it at all, since I personally believe that private agents altering democratically made public decisions is a bad thing, shouldn't we figure out how much we need to take it. I haven't seen figures on the performance of evangelical charities, and ones that take into account selection of those disposed to evangelical charities. That's all. And as to whether we're going to get support for expanding government entitlement programs or not . . . the recent gigantic and badly structured expansion of Medicare didn't seem to be opposed. If I'm questioning premises and thinking that people assume too much, well, it just seems that way to me.

Posted by: Robin | Dec 11, 2004 12:42:05 AM

Posted by: Daniel Kreiss

A year ago I wrote a defense of George Bush's expansion of governmental funding for faith-based initiatives, albeit with some caveats about how the program would be administered (specifically, I called for social service spending not being exclusively determined by religious participation, money needing to be distributed equally to religious institutions across the spectrum of belief, and an increase in other federal spending more generally to ensure that this expanded faith-based presence is not seen as a replacement for any social welfare programs already in existence.) I wrote that based on over ten years experience in the social-service sector, from work with nonprofits and community groups, to religious organizations like St. Martin de Porres Homeless Shelter.

I was wrong.

What I failed to grasp at the time (or tried really, really hard not to believe) was that faith-based funding in the hands of decisively ideological and religious administration becomes a political tool to redraw the map of civic society, inserting religion into every aspect for governmental decision-making including stem-cell research, a woman's right to choose, and even healthcare. Consider this little remarked upon federal pilot program:

"The Bush administration has broken new ground in its "faith-based" initiative, this time by offering federal employees a Catholic health plan that specifically excludes payment for contraceptives, abortion, sterilization and artificial insemination...

Four million federal workers across the country will have 249 choices of health plans for 2005. Those plans are sponsored by dozens of insurers, including Catholic health systems in Missouri, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin, as well as Illinois. Federal workers in Illinois can, of course, still select a health plan that does not have religious-based restrictions. But the OSF plan will be the only health savings account plan available to them.

The Bush administration has promoted health savings account plans as a way to hold down costs, give consumers greater control of health spending and increase personal savings."

The important aspect of this is that only enrollees in the OSF plan will recieve the health savings account benefit (whether or not this is really a good thing is a topic for another day.) It is precisely this discriminatory logic that panders to a religious base but ultimately violates the Constitution.

This is but one example of an initiative that has been applied to selectively benefit religious conservatives rather than truly helping the poor. But consider the wider changes. The speed of the president's changes in how federal programs are administered to account for faith are breathtaking. An August 2004 by The Roundtable of Religion & Social Policy, a project of the Rockefeller Institute of Government, is the most comprehensive study of the administration of faith-based programs. Here are the key findings:

"In the absence of new legislative authority, the President has aggressively advanced the Faith-Based Initiative through executive orders, rule changes, managerial realignment in federal agencies, and other innovative uses of the prerogatives of his office....With assistance from the White House Office, these federal agencies have proposed or finalized a host of new regulations that together mark a major shift in the constitutional separation of church and state. Examples of these regulatory changes include:

The federal government now allows federally-funded faith-based groups to consider religion when employing staff.

The Department of Justice now permits religious organizations to convert government-forfeited property to religious purposes after five years...

The federal government now allows federally-funded faith-based groups to build and renovate structures used for both social services and religious worship.

The Veterans Administration no longer requires faith-based social service providers to certify that they exert "no religious influence."

The Department of Labor now allows students to use federal job-training vouchers to receive religious training leading to employment at a church, synagogue, or other faith-based organization."

Taken together, these changes represent a very dangerous shift in the admittedly gray line separating church and state. And for this considerable risk, we receive little in return. A conference sponsored by the The Roundtable in December 2003, which presented the first detailed studies of both the structure of initiative on a state-by-state basis as well as the efficacy of the program, found that among Welfare-to-Work programs in Los Angeles "there is no clear evidence that point to any one type of program being more effective when working with welfare-to-work clients. Each type was found to do well on some measures but not so good or even bad on others..."

(For access to all the papers at the conference, check out OMB Watch.)

And the programs receiving funding are also geared towards the Christian religious right. In July 2004, the Health Resources and Services Administration announced grants totaling $31 million for abstinence-only health education programs for adolescents ages 12-18. At least nine of the organizations receiving funding were faith-based: eight were Christian or Catholic, and one was Jewish.

Consider this: $31 million for abstinence programs would represent over 16 percent of the total $188 million President Bush announced in August of this year for faith-based social services. When broken down by funding area, you can see that promoting abstinence is given a rough parity with Bush's other major initiatives: $43 million is earmarked for the Compassion Capital Fund, which is a general fund for social-services, and $45.5 million is designated for mentoring children of prisoners, (the bulk of funding, $100 million, is for the Access to Recovery program dealing with substance abuse.)

While I once argued that faith-based funding was important in giving religious organizations who provide social-services additional assistance for their programs (and I can personally attest to both their success and failures) the abuse, partisanship, and fundamental discrimination in the way faith-based funding has been granted in practice makes its benefits pale by comparison to the danger that it not only poses to secular society, but also the historical independence of religious institutions.

Posted by: Daniel Kreiss | Dec 11, 2004 9:28:03 AM

Posted by: dkmich

This position is absolutely nuts!!! This is true and exists somewhere in Texas: Faith based probation program in a prison. Faith Based Program A: If you get saved and convert, you get a mentor, money, job, etc. Non Faith Based Program B: You get a workshop and $30. Duh!

There are TONS of providers who are delivering programs with public money THAT ARE REQUIRED TO COMPLY WITH EEO, ADA, AND GAO LAWS. So many, they can't fund them all; and thanks to Bush tax cuts - are having their funding cut. So who needs the faith based and who wants to have to be born again to BENEFIT FROM TAX DOLLARS.

Second, faith based who are getting public dollars for programs are whining about the rules and accounting standards. The poor little dears don't want to comply with them. They must think they are Haliburton or getting money from DOD.

YOU ARE NUTS! Do you homework and find out what you are talking about.

Posted by: dkmich | Dec 12, 2004 7:50:55 AM

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