Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Funding Faith-Based Social Services - Part II

From AP yesterday via Yahoo News....
"President Bush has succeeded in opening the checkbooks of five federal departments to religious organizations. Now he's setting his sights on money doled out by the states. The goal is to persuade states to funnel more of the federal money for social service programs that they administer to 'faith-based 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.

Partly as a result, in 2003, groups dubbed "faith-based" received $1.17 billion in grants from federal agencies, according to documents provided by the White House to The Associated Press. That was about 8 percent of the $14.5 billion spent on social programs that qualify for faith-based grants in five federal departments.

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? And when? 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/Passage of a 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."

Passed by the House of Representatives on May 8, 2003 by a vote of 220 - 204. (Seven Democrats voted for it....Hall, Peterson, Cramer, Lucas, Marshall, Stenholm, Taylor. Five didn't vote on this bill....Andrews, Clyburn, Dingell, Emanuel, Gephardt.)

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 its federally-funded progams.

It allows the recipient of taxpayers' funds to be accountable to any authority whatsoever. In classic Protestant tradition, it allows churches to adhere solely to their interpretation of God's will in their program's hiring decisions, and not federal government regulations.

Yes. $1.17 billion of taxpayers' funds were gifted in 2003 to social services providers who may freely discriminate in their hiring practices. And that's not enough for the current administration. Not nearly enough.

Churches have traditionally been reluctant to accept government funds as pastors, priests, rabbis, elders, deacons and the like feared that to do so, they would need to change their culture or violate religious tenets. As James Dobson of Focus on the Family lamented in 2003, "Christian charities interested in accepting federal funds would be required to ignore religious conviction in hiring, even if potential employees practiced Islam, Judaism or no religion at all."

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.

The service providers quoted in the Seattle-Intelligencer story expressed surprise that their groups were classified by the White House as faith-based. By classifying every federally-funded social services provider as faith-based, the White House has effectively indemnified them from federal employment discrimination liability.

And even more important to George Bush, innoculating social service providers from complying with federal employment practice requirements is a backdoor method of implementing a new American social order. A new social order based on the values espoused by these faith-based organizations.

If, indeed, this is the centerpiece of Bush's domestic agenda, a drive to rebuke the heart and intent of the New Deal and the War on Poverty, it is one being interpreted and implemented by faith-based organizations that are hand-picked by the White House and the agencies and offices under its direct control.

End of Part II

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