Magazine article Policy & Practice

Role of States in the Faith-Based Initiative

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Role of States in the Faith-Based Initiative

Article excerpt

Over the past four years, the president's Faith-Based and Community Initiative (FBCI) has transformed federal rules and policies concerning the public funding of faith-based social service providers (FBOs).

The basic principles of the FBCI were first enacted by Congress in the 1996 welfare reform legislation, now known as the "Charitable Choice" provisions. These provisions include the equal eligibility of FBOs to participate in federally funded social welfare programs; the right of participating FBOs to maintain their religious character; the right of participating FBOs to maintain their exemption from the federal prohibition on religious discrimination in hiring; and a ban on the use of government funds for "sectarian worship, instruction, or proselytization."

Between 1996 and 2000, Congress applied these provisions to a range of social welfare funding streams. Since 2000, however, Congress has not added the provisions to any new funding streams. Nor has Congress approved legislation that would have extended the provisions to all federally funded social welfare programs.

In the first week of his first term in office, President Bush created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (WHOFBCI), and similar FBCI offices in those federal agencies that had significant responsibility for federal social service funding. The president directed these offices to identify any regulations or other policies that restricted the ability of FBOs to participate in federally funded social service programs. The president issued an executive order in December 2002, directing all federal agencies to remove regulatory restrictions on the participation of FBOs in social welfare programs. The agencies have since extended the basic principles of the FBCI to virtually all streams of federal social welfare funding.

The WHOFBCI has also begun to encourage more involvement by the states in implementing the FBCI. Some states have embraced the initiative; others have been reluctant to follow suit.

A number of legal questions now face the states in their implementation of the FBCI:

1. May states include houses of worship in the pool of eligible grantees? If public financing is limited to secular activities, and the state has in place safeguards to ensure compliance with that limitation, the First Amendment now permits houses of worship to participate in social welfare programs.

2. May Congress insist that states comply with the general principles of the FBCI, even if their own traditional policies and/or state constitutions are in tension with its policies? …

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