Mixed Reactions to Funding of Faith-Based Organizations

January 30, 2001

Source: The Atlanta Journal and Constitution

On January 30, 2001 The Atlanta Jounal and Constitution reported that "as President Bush delivers his faith-based initiative to Capitol Hill today, his proposal to give religious groups greater access to federal funds is already dividing the nonprofit community. Bush signed an executive order Monday creating the nation's first White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives." The program is designed to send as much as $10 billion a year to faith-based organizations, so these institutions can perform social services formerly administered by the government, including drug treatment and welfare-to-work programs.

Some argue that this program violates the separation of church and state. Secular social aid programs are concerned that their efforts may take a backseat to religious programs under the new plan. The President argues that the provisions are constitutional because no funding will go to religious activities. Rather, he says, the program will allow religious and secular groups to compete for government money. "We will not fund the religious activities of any group, but when people of faith provide social services, we will not discriminate against them," Bush said. "Sara Melendez, president and chief executive of the Independent Sector, a nonprofit coalition of 700 voluntary organizations, foundations and corporations, said she was pleased to hear Bush say his plan would be an 'initiative of inclusion.'" Melendez explained, "'I think it could be a shot in the arm if it means that more people will give and volunteer and if the federal government sees these agencies as partners in designing policy.'" Some foundations worry that they may be expected to make up the difference in the social services available today and the level of need. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) wants to be sure the measures do not become a way for the federal government to avoid having a direct role in providing government services.