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What Difference Do Faith-Based Organizations Make?: eNews from the IRF Alliance

President Obama's faith-based council includes notables such as Noel Castellanos of CCDA.  A discussion on the value of faith-based social services and the question of 501(c)(3) status plus more.

Editor: Stanley Carlson-Thies
Faith-Based Advisory Council Taskforces
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The President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships was created to: "identify best practices and successful modes of delivering social services; evaluate the need for improvements in the implementation and coordination of public policies relating to faith-based and other neighborhood organizations; and make recommendations to the President, through the Executive Director [of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships], for changes in policies, programs, and practices that affect the delivery of services by such organizations and the needs of low-income and other underserved persons in communities at home and around the world."

To carry forth this work, the Council has organized six taskforces (each of which includes several Council members and a number of outside leaders and experts):  the economic recovery and domestic poverty; fatherhood and healthy families; inter-religious dialogue and cooperation; the environment and climate change; global poverty and development; and improving the functioning of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. 

The Reform of the Office taskforce will consider how the faith-based office can best support the corresponding Centers in major federal departments and the faith-based/community-based liaisons in state and local governments, how it can best inform and serve secular and faith-based service organizations, and whether and what changes might need to be made to the church-state guidelines for federal/faith-based partnerships (not including the issue of hiring on a religious basis). 

This taskforce includes, from the Advisory Council, Anju Bhargava (Asian Indian Women of America), Noel Castellanos (Christian Community Development Association), Fred Davie (was president of Public/Private Ventures), Nathan Diament (Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations), Harry Knox (Human Rights Campaign), Anthony Picarello (US Conference of Catholic Bishops), and Melissa Rogers (Wake Forest Divinity School Center for Religion and Public Affairs). 

Among the outside advisors are critics of the federal faith-based initiative such as Barry Lynn (Americans United for Separation of Church and State), Welton Gaddy (Interfaith Alliance), and Brent Walker (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty), and strong supporters of the initiative, including Ron Sider (Evangelicals for Social Action) and Stanley Carlson-Thies (Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance). 

Bi-weekly discussions will work toward a report in the Fall to the Advisory Council, which can accept or reject or modify recommendations, and will then make a report to the President in February, 2010.
 
Faith in Faith-Based Services--Here and Abroad
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What difference does the "faith" of "faith-based" social services make?  A recent issue (PDF) of Fast Focus (Institute for Research on Poverty) written by Jennifer Noyes reports on a 2008 conference on "Measuring the Role of Faith in Program Outcomes."  One conclusion:  there are good reasons to think that faith-based organizations bring unique qualities to their services but researchers have yet to figure out just how to define, measure, and assess those qualities and their value.  The brief memo and Noyes' discussion paper (PDF) around which the conference was organized are well worth reading.  Note the conference's observation that it isn't only in faith-based organizations that religious activities show up:  secular and faith-based organizations "exist along a continuum" with regard to the extent to which faith or religion comes to expression in the social services offered.

An important February report (PDF) from INTRAC, the International NGO Training and Research Centre is entitled, "What is Distinctive About FBOs?  How European FBOs define and operationalise their faith."  European faith-based organizations, especially those that are Christian, according to the report, for a variety of reasons downplay their religious identity and distinctives.  Yet we have entered an era in which donors, including many governments and multilateral institutions, many professionals and organization consultants, and many of the communities and individuals being served value faith expressions.  Important donors acknowledge that faith-based groups, "even more than" secular ones:  "provide efficient development services, reach the poorest, are valued by the poorest, provide an alternative to a secular theory of development, ignite civil society advocacy, and motivate action."  All good reasons to let that light shine-not hide it under a bushel!
 
Evaluation of the Bush Faith-Based Initiative
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The Pew Foundation-funded Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy came to an end last December.  At a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life event on June 11, the final report of the Roundtable, written by its key researcher, David Wright, was released.  Taking Stock: The Bush Faith-Based Initiative and What Lies Ahead (PDF) shows the extensive aspirations and achievements of the last administration's faith-based and community initiative.  The transcript of the Pew Forum event will also be worth reading for the comments of Joshua DuBois, director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships; Steve Goldsmith, pioneer in faith-based policy; Richard Nathan, head of the Rockefeller Institute of Government, which undergirded the Roundtable; and Luis Lugo, head of Pew Forum.  It should be posted soon on the Pew Forum website.
 
Health Care Reform and Religious Freedom
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Congress has begun focusing on health care reform, with the aim of passing a far-reaching overhaul in line with President Obama's goals and getting it to him by October for his signature.  No doubt the system needs multiple reforms.  Here's one of the big questions not yet answered:  will the changed system respect the conscience rights of health care providers and professionals?  Administration and congressional actions and statements concerning embryonic stem cells, abortion funding, the Bush administration's HHS conscience-protection regulation, and other issues (including the possible creation of a new government health-care option that might drive out private providers) all give reason for alarm. 

The important Freedom2Care coalition recently held a press conference in California stressing the urgency of maintaining the HHS conscience regulation so that statutory protections for pro-life doctors and hospitals will have teeth.  See the statement of Jacqueline Halbig, director of Freedom2Care, and the press report by the California Catholic Daily.
 
Persistent Myths
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That old myth is getting supercharged again:  that the solution to faith-based organizations that might improperly engage in religious activities in a government-funded program is to require that the government-funded services be offered in a separate 501(c)(3) organization.  "Just make those intensely faith-based groups set up a separate 501(c)(3) organization and the constitutional concerns will go away" is the cry once again.  In fact, there is a good reason for a house of worship to create a separate organization to provide government-funded services: that organizational separation keeps the church or synagogue from being subject to intrusive government rules and investigations that are appropriate for a social service provider but not for a house of worship.  Moreover, this kind of organizational development helps people focus on the two different missions (worship plus help for members versus "this worldly" help to others) and makes it easier to keep separate accounting of the different kinds of funds.

But a 501(c)(3) is no magical Jeffersonian cure for church-state boundary questions.  Why not?  Consider this:  a 501(c)(3) can be a thoroughly religious organization, even a "pervasively sectarian" organization in which religion is expressed everything it does, from hiring to staff meetings to services provided.  A 501(c)(3) that isn't abiding by the rules for direct government funds can just as easily as a church wrongly mix prayer or religious instruction into government-funded services.  And a church can-many do-follow the rules that accompany government funding without ever having set up a whole separate organization (although-see above-there are good reasons to create that institutional division). 

An episode from the past:  after Congress passed and President Clinton signed Charitable Choice into law the first time as part of welfare reform (1996), the Center for Public Justice, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit think tank, published a guide to this new "level playing field" provision.  A year or two later, a State of California agency ordered a copy so that it could be sure it was following this new federal requirement to permit equal competition for state welfare funds by faith-based organizations.  The Center sent the guide, along with an invoice.  Back came a multi-page "vendor qualification" document to be filled out before the state agency could send the $5.00 for the guide it had received.  One key question:  Does this vendor discriminate on the basis of religion when it hires staff?  The Center (a faith-based think tank) of course hired only Christians and said so on the form.  The California agency's response:  We can't do business with you!  The Center was too religious, as shown by its religious staffing policy.  However, the state agency kept the guide to Charitable Choice.  The Center was too religious to be paid, but its legal and policy guidance was just what the state needed-trustworthy advice for official decisions-so it kept the booklet!  The Center's 501(c)(3) status didn't get it the $5 from the state, or keep it from being regarded as just "too religious" for government work.
 
Resources
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Emily Belz, "Keeping the faith?" (federal policy and faith-based organizations), World magazine, June 20, 2009.  Quote from Stanley Carlson-Thies:  "Faith-groups that care a lot about their faith should be quite wary-there might be changes down the road.  They ought to read the fine print quite carefully."

Stanley Carlson-Thies, "Faith-Based Initiative 2.0:  The Bush Faith-Based and Community Initiative," (download PDF) Harvard J. of Law and Public Policy (Summer 2009).

Resources of the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy continue to be available on its archived website.
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