Study Reviews "Faith-Based Initiatives"

by ekramer on June 16, 2009

A new study says questions about hiring practices undermined President George W. Bush’s Faith-Based and Community Initiative. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer has more.

The report — Taking Stock: The Bush Faith-Based Initiative and What Lies Ahead— from the Rockefeller Institute of Government found Bush’s policy goals were never fully realized because of doubts in Congress and among the electorate about providing public money to religious groups without controls on hiring practices.

That’s according to David Wright, who wrote the report and is the institute’s project director.

“The debate over whether groups should or shouldn’t be able to hire on the basis of religion if they were operating with taxpayer funds became the hot flashpoint in the debate,” Wright says.

The debate was highlighted in Kentucky when the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children in 2001. The case concerned an employee who was fired after she revealed she was gay.

Wright says Bush’s push for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives created a proliferation of similar efforts at local levels. The study says by 2008 36 governors and 100 mayors had established offices of “Faith-Based and Community Initiatives” or liaisons to work with faith-based groups.

In 2007, former Gov. Ernie Fletcher launched Kentucky’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Indiana’s Gov. Mitch Daniels created an office of the same name in 2005.

But Wright says legal questions about providing taxpayer funds to groups who hire on the basis of religion have inhibited programs from providing increasing public funding to faith-based groups.

While 36 states still operate these offices, some have deemphasized them — including Kentucky.

“The office itself does not seem to have as high a profile or as central a role in reaching out and encouraging faith communities and others to think about partnering and delivering services,” Wright says.

In 2007, former Gov. Ernie Fletcher launched Kentucky’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Indiana’s Gov. Mitch Daniels created an office of the same name in 2005.

Meanwhile, Wright says the recession is limiting the reach of the state-level programs.

“Certainly the demand for social services is increasing quite a lot for religious groups as well as other community groups that provide services without public contracts,” Wright says, “but it’s much harder for local and state governments to try to find sources of money that might be available for a grant or a contract to start a new service or a different service with a nontraditional partner.”

The study says the Obama administration is looking at hiring practices of groups that receive funding on a case-by-case basis and wants faith-based groups to participate more in developing policies. In February, he created the Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships. He also formed an Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

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