Families, Faith, and Mental Health,

By Hurd, Lyse | The Humanist, January 2001 | Go to article overview

Families, Faith, and Mental Health,


Hurd, Lyse, The Humanist


IT NEVER CEASES to amaze me that people will take stands against programs when they have little or no understanding of the accompanying circumstances. This is particularly the case with the issue of public funding of faith-based social services, termed charitable choice and provided for in the Welfare Act of 1996.

Charitable choice allows the government to fund faith-based agencies that are attempting to address social ills. But many articles on the subject argue that the law is a violation of the separation of church and state. And much concern is expressed that charitable organizations will use state money to promote their religious beliefs to clients. In addition, some opponents of charitable choice seem to want to end this form of government spending altogether.

As a humanist and a social worker in the state of Kentucky, I take issue with this. In Kentucky, most of the organizations that assist suffering children and families are faith-based. If their government funding were cut, these agencies would most likely cease to exist. That may seem like a victory to many atheists, agnostics, and others who choose nonbelief; however, where would the children and families in need then turn for help?

I don't and absolutely won't support any effort that would take money away from agencies that are attempting to resolve the issues that tear individuals, families, and communities apart.

Furthermore, I challenge those who oppose government funding of these agencies to visit them. Don't just go and look around. Talk to the staff. Talk to the clients--the children and families who are receiving services. If any one of those who oppose government funding of faith-based agencies still feels the same after thoroughly researching the issue, I would consider him or her to be pretty heartless.

One of the arguments against these agencies expressed by their detractors is that the organizations can hire and fire at will. Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children (KBHC) recently fired a therapist because she is a lesbian. This is

certainly an outrage. But it has been my experience that this is the exception and not the rule. I do agree, however, that it shouldn't even be an issue.

The code of ethics of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) forbids discrimination of any kind and we, as social workers, are ethically bound to speak out when an incident like this occurs. Many social workers did speak out against the KBHC incident. The Kentucky NASW released a statement condemning KBHC's action, even though the therapist in question wasn't a social worker or a member of NASW.

I do understand the outcry against faith-based agencies receiving funding from the government but there is a better solution to this issue than simply eliminating their services. I urge those who are against the policy of government funding of faith-based organizations to do two things.

First, make the government pass fairness laws that protect the employment of those who work for all agencies receiving federal funds, regardless of the religious beliefs of that agency. Time and money is better spent, and the fight should be for a more positive cause. …

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