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Religious charities nixed by government, says Bush report

WASHINGTON (BP)–Religious charities aren’t given a fair shot at getting government grant money for social service programs, says a study released Thursday by the Bush administration.

According to CNSNews.com, in the report, White House officials describe a culture of hostility and confusion in federal bureaucracies, and a bias in favor of big organizations. The report also points to complicated regulations that scare away small charities. All of these factors effectively shut out many religious charities from getting government funds to help people battle drug addiction, get jobs or help at-risk kids.

While accurate data is hard to come by, agency records documented in the report show very little of discretionary funds flowing to faith-based groups: 0.3 percent for the Justice Department; 2 percent for the Education Department; and 1 percent for the Labor Department.

The President created offices of faith-based and community initiatives in five cabinet agencies and within the White House during his first month in office, tasking them with investigating ways in which the federal bureaucracy discriminates against religious groups when handing out government grant money.

The report’s authors conclude that one cause of the problem is that many bureaucrats, at all levels of government, wrongly believe that awarding government money to religious charities is unconstitutional.

“We understand that the people who administer these programs are not trying to keep people out arbitrarily,” said Stanley Carlson-Theis, White House associate director for cabinet affairs, speaking at the Brookings Institution on Thursday.

However, said Carlson-Theis, they may not be accustomed to dealing with religious groups.

Carlson-Theis and his colleagues documented 15 barriers to religious groups seeking government grants. He said bureaucrats harbor a “pervasive suspicion” about faith-based groups, often believing it would be unconstitutional to award government money to religious groups, despite federal laws that allow for it.

Another problem is that getting government grant money requires sorting through sometimes hundreds of pages of regulations and requirements-something to which small, local charities cannot devote their limited resources.

Some critics of the report say that the administration goes too far in its reliance on how the Supreme Court will view government funding of religious groups.

“The White House report does open a discussion about barriers [and] talks about a sort of paradigm shift they believe is happening on the Supreme Court in the area of church and state,” said Melissa Rogers, executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a liberal foundation.

“On the other side of this debate … are the voices the say that the Supreme Court can’t be read nearly so neatly on this question,” said Rogers.

“The folks that think this way would say that in the Supreme Court’s most recent decision this past summer, the [Mitchell v.] Helms decision which is discussed in the report, all the justices in some manner recognize that there are special dangers when dealing with direct government money going to certain religious institutions.”

The Court ruled in June that federal program providing computers to parochial schools did not violate the Constitution.

“When the report says things like, ‘the court has now all but abandoned the pervasively sectarian standard that it’s used in the past,’ some might ask is it appropriate then to understand why bureaucrats might not be moving to that bright line that’s described in the White House report,” Rogers said. “In other words the bureaucrats have some well placed concerns that this debate over constitutional principles is still in play.”

The Bush administration believes that better federal legislation is needed to end the confusion. The House in July passed the administration’s bill designed to preserve the right of faith-based groups to make hiring decisions based on religious criteria.

The bill has proved controversial in the Senate, however, as Senators Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) are leading an effort to preclude such groups from discriminating against homosexual job applicants.
Hall is a staff writer with CNSNews.com. Used by permission.

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  • Christine Hall