Faith, Politics, and Power: The Politics of Faith-Based Initiatives

Faith, Politics, and Power: The Politics of Faith-Based Initiatives

Faith, Politics, and Power: The Politics of Faith-Based Initiatives

Faith, Politics, and Power: The Politics of Faith-Based Initiatives


There is often more than meets the eye where politics, religion and money are concerned. This is certainly the case with the Faith-Based Initiative. Section 104, a small provision of the 1996 Welfare Reform bill called "Charitable Choice," was the beginning of what we now know as the Faith-Based Initiative. In its original form, the Initiative was intended to ensure that small religious groups were not discriminated against in the awarding of government funding to provide social services. While this was the beginning of the story for the initiative, it is not the end. Instead Charitable Choice served as the launching pad for growing implementation of Faith-Based Initiatives. These new policies and practices exist despite the fact that all levels of government already contract with religious organizations to provide social services. Nevertheless, government actors have been implementing the Initiative in myriad ways, creating new policies where none appear necessary. Using data from multiple sources this book examines how and why states have been creating these policies and practices. The data reveal three key aspects of faith-based policy implementation by states: appointment of state actors known as Faith-Based Liaisons, passage of legislation, and development of state Faith-Based Policy conferences. These practices created a system in which neither the greatest hopes of its supporters, nor the greatest fears of its opponents have been realized. Supporters had hoped the Faith-Based Initiative would be about solving problems of poverty and an over-burdened welfare system, while opponents feared rampant proselytizing with government funds. Instead, these initiatives by and large did not offer substantial new fiscal support to those in need. In the place of this hope and fear, and despite the good intentions of many, these initiatives became powerful political symbols in the fight to reshape church/state relationships and distribution of political power.


Since 1996, federal and state governments have been increasing their implementation of a variety of faith-based practices. From creating new Offices of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to passing new statutes ensuring more access for faith-based organizations, state and federal actors have by and large jumped on the faith-based bandwagon. In his final State of the Union address, President Bush once again addressed what he saw as the importance of faith-based initiatives. He argued that the federal government had not done enough to implement faith-based initiatives:

When I came into office, the nation’s traditions of religious
freedom and equal opportunity were facing unnecessary
obstacles. Throughout America, religious and community
groups were providing effective assistance to people in need,
but there was a great reluctance on the part of the federal
government to help them. There was the notion that
somehow that [sic] there needed to be a clear separation of
church and state, and therefore, we shouldn’t be using
taxpayers’ money to help programs that were helping to meet
important national goals. (Bush 2008)

While the president and many supporters of faith-based initiatives may have been disappointed with the lack of federal policy progress, what they may not have realized was how far many states had already gone in creating faith-based policies and practices.

State faith-based policy implementation is in fact more advanced in many ways than implementation at the federal level. States . . .

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