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Faith-Based Initiative:
Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Why should the government give money to faith-based groups when it is the church’s responsibility, not the government’s, to help the needy?

A. Many churches and parachurch ministries assist needy families. One goal of the faith-based initiative is to promote greater giving to compassionate ministries. Government assists the needy by funding private groups. Views differ on what government’s role should be. The faith-based initiative insists that, when the government does fund private service programs, it must not discriminate against faith groups. Faith-based ministries, if they believe funding will enhance rather than harm their programs, should have equal opportunity for funding.

Q. Should the government cut taxes so people can contribute more money to faith-based groups instead of providing government grants to those groups?

A. A key strategy of leaders who favor a greater role for faith-based services is to change tax policy to encourage greater private giving. Government social programs ensure people with needs will receive help and continue to receive help even if private giving falters. Since government provides social help by funding private service groups, it shouldn’t discriminate against faith-based groups that provide effective assistance.

Q. Should people depend on faith-based organizations instead of the government to supply social services?

A. Private service groups, including churches and parachurch ministries, have always been a major part of the American social safety net for the needy. Faith-based programs have a unique power to transform lives, leading to permanent changes. As a result, politicians, scholars, and policy analysts are considering ways to increase the role of faith-based services. Public opinion and policy makers are also acknowledging the important and positive role faith plays in the lives of individuals, communities, and social services. The faith-based initiative enlarges the importance of faith-based services without collapsing the government’s role of overseeing and coordinating society’s response to need.

Q. If the federal government funds religious groups, won’t federal money go to objectionable religions?

A. Many Christians believe it is wrong for federal money to support secular programs that contend religion is irrelevant. The government needs to focus on programs that work with equal treatment of different philosophies and faiths. The President can’t be our chief theologian. Also, Americans have very diverse views. The government will always be funding groups that some Americans object to. Officials can refuse to fund organizations that violate American standards and treat clients with disrespect. Christians concerned that bad programs will receive funding need to work harder so officials have better programs from which to choose. If excellent Christian ministries refuse to partner with the government, officials will have no choice but to fund programs reflecting other faiths or those that are ineffective and even harmful.

Q. Does the constitutional principle of separation of church and state forbid the federal government from setting up programs to fund churches?

A. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t use the phrase "separation of church and state." It simply forbids government from establishing religion, but the Constitution does require government to protect religious liberty. It would be incorrect for the government to financially support churches, synagogues, and mosques. It is equally wrong for the government to support only secular programs when good faith-based programs exist. Officials need to choose the best programs to receive government support. They owe it to taxpayers and the needy to have a bias for effectiveness. The real question is, can officials give government grants to the most effective social-services programs, whether religious or secular? There is no faith-based money set aside for churches or Christian ministries. If officials fund an effective church-related social program, they are using tax money wisely, not turning the church into a government-supported institution.

Q. Is it wise for faith-based groups to depend on government funding?

A. Faith-based groups should never base their financial strategy on receiving government money. They need diversified funding to preserve their independence. Government has addressed social problems for decades by funding private social-service programs. In the past, courts asserted that government could not aid religion. But they now regard equal treatment of all groups, religious or secular, as a constitutional requirement. Efforts to expand those partnerships didn’t begin nor will they end with the present administration.

Government officials, academics, and policy analysts who are concerned about effective social services regard policy changes that invite faith groups into partnership one way to improve services for the needy. The faith-based initiative is good-government reform, not the special interest of religious people.

Q. How can the faith-based initiative advocate funding services of religious groups when there’s no proof these groups provide better services?

A. The government has no plan to stop funding secular providers and fund religious providers because one is secular and one is religious. The plan is to remove restrictions in the laws that keep officials from choosing effective service providers based on religion. More research is needed to determine the effectiveness of both faith-based and secular service providers. Some faith-based groups may rank at the top and others may not.

Q. Should faith-based groups receiving government money be allowed to hire whomever they wish, or is that government-funded job discrimination?

A. When a faith-based group that is permitted by law to hire only believers is selected for a government grant, the government isn’t funding job discrimination. It is ensuring that taxpayer money goes to the most effective service organizations. Faith-based organizations, not the government, select employees on the basis of their faith commitment. Federal civil rights law and the laws of most states and local governments protect the right to select employees on a faith basis when government funding is not an issue. Requirements for government funding may stipulate that grantees not use religion as employment criterion. That condition is not universal, nor should it be. Faith-based groups consider faith when hiring and firing to ensure their staff will be compatible with their character and mission. Discrimination, however, is not permitted when selecting employees for reasons such as a person’s color, race, national origin, sex, or disability.

Q. Will faith-based groups that receive government funding also be subject to governmental interference with their beliefs and operations?

A. Faith-based groups need to be alert about accepting excessively restrictive government rules. They also should not become so dependent on government money that they can’t walk away from government funding that is accompanied by excessive restrictions. Rather, faith-based groups should cultivate dependence on their true supporters — the folks in the pew and the neighborhood who will pray for them, volunteer their time and expertise, and donate finances. Churches can establish a separate nonprofit organization to accept government funding and administer services to protect the independence of its congregation. Informal and innovative groups may decide the government’s rules are too limiting. For other faith groups, an important part of the faith-based initiative is the strong effort to reduce excessive regulations and restrictions on religion. No one wants churches and parachurch ministries to be subject to improper restrictions. The rules for government funding have to be accommodating for faith-based groups to feel welcome.

—Dave Donaldson and Stanley Carlson-Thies. Abridged from A Revolution of Compassion,© 2003. Published by Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Used by permission of the authors.

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