Sunday, January 02, 2005

Funding Faith-Based Social Services - Part I

Reported today in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer....

$1B given to faith-based groups in 2003, by Laura Meckler, AP writer
"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 and some to organizations that do not consider themselves religious at all.

Many of these groups have entirely secular missions and some organizations were surprised to find their names on a list of faith-based groups provided to The Associated Press by the White House.

'Someone has obviously designated us a faith-based organization, but we don't recognize ourselves as that,' said Stacey Denaux, executive director of Crisis Ministries, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in Charleston, S.C.

Other grant recipients are religious, offering social service programs that the government may have deemed too religious to receive money before President Bush took office. "

I pose the question.....What's wrong with federal funding of faith-based social services groups? What's actually wrong with providing faith-based homeless, hunger and rehabilitiation service programs equal footing with secular community-based groups when applying for grants?

At first sound byte, the idea is divinely inspired. Most religious-related groups labor with love and fervor to serve all 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 seven federal agencies, assistance and guidebooks were provided to religious organizations to enable them to apply for government funds, and webs sites were created for speedy access to info and 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 community organizations.

Apparently, Bush's faith-based initiative was never intended to level the proverbial playing field for religious-related groups in the federal grants process. As originally conceived, Bush's faith-based initiative was to be the centerpiece of his administration's domestic agenda, spearheading the final attack on the New Deal and the War on Poverty, transferring a host of government programs from federal agencies to the religious sector.

It was never intended to give religious organizations equal footing in the grant application process. It was never intended to augment existing federal programs. It was intended to replace the federal social services agency segment, thus removing the federal government entirely from the process of caring compassionately for its citizens.

End of Part I

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