The President's Faith-Based and Community Initiatives proposal emphasizes overcoming poverty and the complementary roles and responsibilities of religious groups, community organizations and government. It presents us with a new opportunity to refocus the nation"s attention on so much poverty in a rich nation. In many communities where disinvestment and discrimination exacerbate the problems of addiction, family disintegration, and violence, churches and community-based charities are often the only institutions still there and able to address the pervasive poverty of their neighbors. With the new demands placed on charities in light of September 11 and the troubled economy, it is more important than ever to make sure that all charities, faith-based or secular, have access to the private and public resources they need to serve the "least of these." Matt. 25.
White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives: The Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives has been established to take the lead in promoting, strengthening and expanding grassroots and faith-based services to overcome poverty. There are now similar offices at seven cabinet agencies " Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Education and Labor, and the most recent, at Agriculture and the State Department's Agency for International Development " to review polices and programs to remove unnecessary obstacles that may prevent faith-based and community organizations from entering partnerships with the federal government on the same terms as other groups.
On December 12, 2002, the President signed two new executive orders. The first created the new agency offices at the Department of Agriculture and the Agency for International Development. The second does two things: first, it instructs government agencies to follow charitable-choice-type principles, to the extent permitted by law; and second, it amends the previous Executive Order 11246, which prohibits employment discrimination by government contractors, to include the same exemption for religious entities found in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. This means that religious groups covered by that executive order are now exempted from past restrictions on employment decisions involving religion. This second executive order has generated some controversy among those who see it as a significant change in the law, although it is clearly limited by existing Constitutional, statutory, or regulatory law, and the changes to Executive Order 11246 appear to apply only to procurement contractors, not to recipients of federal grants.
Legislative Actions: Bills implementing aspects of the faith-based initiative were active in both the House and Senate in the last Congress, but the year ended without final passage of any faith-based legislation. We expect to see similar bills introduced again this year.
House of Representatives: Representatives J.C. Watts (R-OK) and Rep. Tony Hall (D-OH) cosponsored the Community Solutions Act (H.R. 7) in the last Congress, which the Bishops' Conference supported. The House of Representatives passed H.R. 7 in July 2001, after a sadly polarized and partisan debate. Both Rep. Watts and Rep. Hall have left Congress, and new lead cosponsors have yet to emerge. A bill very similar to
H.R. 7 will probably be introduced and include controversial charitable choice provisions that allow religious organizations to participate in government programs on the same terms as other organizations.
Senate: Senators Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and Rick Santorum (R-PA) worked closely with President Bush to develop a package of measures to assist faith-based and other charitable organizations, the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Act (S. 1924). Their bill intentionally did not include charitable choice, so that the debate and controversy over the provision would not hinder passage of legislation that would provide new, crucial resources to programs that serve the poor. Both the USCCB and Catholic Charities USA were among the most active supporters of the CARE Act. Unfortunately, the Senate did not act on the CARE Act before adjourning. A small group of Senators were determined to force a debate attacking the provision of civil rights law acknowledging the ability of religious organizations to prefer co-religionists in hiring. We expect Senators Lieberman and Santorum to reintroduce the CARE Act in January or February of this year.
The USCCB has been supportive of President Bush"s Faith-Based and Community Initiatives proposal because we believe it has the potential to put new tools in the hands of those struggling daily to overcome the most difficult problems in our communities: persistent poverty, violence, substance abuse, inadequate housing, and obstacles faced by those entering the job market.
Catholic social teaching and the principle of subsidiarity have long stressed the importance of small and intermediate-sized communities or institutions in exercising moral responsibility. We support increased resources for faith-based and community-based mediating institutions that are pursuing creative, responsive and effective solutions with the potential to help people gain independence from violence, addiction and poverty. Faith-based groups should be allowed to participate in federally-funded programs to meet social needs on the same terms as other groups, without changing their fundamental nature or facing discrimination because of their religious identity.
See Economic Justice For All, 11/86; Moral Principles and Policy Priorities for Welfare Reform, 3/95; Statement by Cardinal Roger Mahony, 2/12/01; letters from Cardinal Mahony, to Representatives Watts and Hall, 6/11/01; letters from Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and Fr. J. Bryan Hehir, Catholic Charities USA, to Senators Santorum and Lieberman, 2/26/02.
What You Can Do
- Urge your Senators and Representatives to support legislation that will increase the ability of faith-based and community groups to partner with the federal government in serving our neediest citizens, without giving up their identity.
- Strongly urge your Senators and Representatives to include new resources for groups that serve the poor, such as the Social Services Block Grant, in this year's faith-based legislation.
- Stay in touch with USCCB for Action Alerts on new bills as they are introduced this year.
For Further Information