Mixed Reactions to Funding of Faith-Based Organizations

January 30, 2001

Source: The New York Times

On January 30, 2001, The New York Times reported that "flanked by an array of religious leaders, President Bush today signed two executive orders that throw open the doors of government to religious and community groups as part of a broad effort to refashion the way government delivers social services...The move is likely to be applauded by many religious leaders and Americans who believe that faith has long been the missing ingredient in government programs for the homeless, drug addicts, prisoners, the mentally ill and the unemployed." But there will doubtless be much debate about whether the new measures are constitutional and about the relationship between the government and religious institutions. Even representitives of some religious programs are nervous about the plan, fearing that in choosing which programs to fund, the government could end up favoring certain programs, and thus certain religions. The White House argues that programs will be evaluated based on their record of success, with money being awarded to the most successful programs.

Religious representitives present at the signing of the new legislation included "five prominent black preachers and a Muslim imam... a Catholic nun...an Orthodox Jew... [and] about 20 Christian leaders and pastors, many of them evangelicals. The heads of most of the largest religious charitable agencies, including those run by Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists and Jews, were noticeably absent." The question of how to deal with the religious diversity of the United States in an equitable way is a sticky one. "'If faith is that important, then you have to provide everybody with the services that correspond to their own particular faith,' said Marc Stern, a lawyer with the American Jewish Congress. 'But that's not how these programs work. The government one way or another picks its favorite provider. You can expect a lot of Baptist programs in Texas and few Mormon ones, and the opposite in Utah. So what does equality mean under those circumstances?'" Another problem is whether the program violates the constitutional separation of church and state; even Stephen Goldsmith, one of the newly appointed leaders of the program, admits that it would be difficult to catch any institution which shifted government funds provided strictly for social services into its religious endeavors. Another potential problem is that religious institutions funded by the government are allowed to discriminate in hiring and firing based on their religion.