OPP Attends President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships
October 14, 2009
On October 13 th representatives from the Office of Public Policy attended the quarterly meeting of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Commerce. This council was originally created by President George W. Bush, and reorganized under President Obama by executive order on February 5 th 2009. The President has tasked them with the creation of several new initiatives to find new ways for both secular and faith-based organizations to better serve their communities.
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss and deliberate the preliminary reports and recommendations of each task force assigned to one of six key areas. These areas included Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families, Economic Recovery and Domestic Poverty, Reform of the Office, Environment and Climate Change, Inter-religious Cooperation, and Global Poverty and Development. Overall, the general theme of all of the reports focused on new ways to connect nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) with organizations and agencies within the government. After all of the reports and deliberations there was an opportunity for public comment, during which CFI stated some of our concerns with these preliminary recommendations and presented the Office Reform Taskforce chairperson with our position paper on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Central to these concerns are the findings of the various taskforces and their preliminary recommendations. One key example is the recommendation by the Office Reform Taskforce that “church-state safeguards are included in the monitoring tools used in the audit required of nonfederal entities expending $500,000 or more annually in federal funds.” This lower limit to expenditures in order to qualify for monitoring seems too high. Many religious organizations undoubtedly receive less than $500,000 annually and will therefore not be monitored for compliance with church-state separation under the current recommendations. If a religious organization desires any form of federal funding, it is incumbent upon the government to ensure that every dollar of that funding goes towards a secular goal.
Another concern with the Office Reform Taskforce’s recommendations is the division that exists within the group over whether or not religious institutions should be allowed to offer federally funded secular programming in rooms with religious iconography. Some of the members argue that allowing this would essentially allow a form of discrimination against individuals who wish to access the programming, but do not necessarily follow the religion of the organization that offers it. Other believed that forcing religious institutions to remove all religious iconography and art from a location places an undue burden on the organization and degrades their religious freedom. These arguments force a difficult balance between ensuring that the government does not fund activities that may have a religious impact and respecting the rights of religious organizations.
Finally, there remains a great concern regarding accountability for all organizations—both religious and secular—that receive federal funds. While each of the committees call for greater engagement between the government and community groups and streamlining the requirements for groups to gain access to federal funds, in none of the reports did we find recommendations that include program evaluations to determine whether or not the programs offered by organizations helped to ameliorate the problems that they focus on as a requirement for further access to funding. While CFI supports government funding for programs that do a great deal of good in their communities and respect the rule of law regarding the separation of church and state, we would like to know that the government is spending taxpayer money on programs that actually work to solve the many problems in society today.