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Faith, Fabrications, & Fantasy
I n the coming year, faith-based organizations will be taking in money hand over fist. In 2003 alone, the Administration handed out $1.17 billion in grants to religious organizations and, if the president has his way, individual states will soon be handing over hundreds of millions of dollars to faith-based organizations.
A report entitled “The Expanding Administrative Presidency: George W. Bush and the Faith- Based Initiative” (www.religion andsocialpolicy.org) issued this past summer by the Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany, New York, pointed out that religious organizations have now become involved in a wide range of “government-encouraged activities…from building strip malls for economic improvement to promoting child car seats.” The report also noted that Bush’s faith-based programs “mark a major shift in the constitutional separation of church and state.”
Four years ago, an impressive array of pastors, preachers, rabbis and community leaders shared the White House platform with President Bush as he announced the establishment of The White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (www.faithbased- communityinitiatives.org). Months passed and Congress debated some of the thorny issues surrounding Bush’s faith-based proposal—including fudging the lines relating to the separation of church and state, and the propensity of religious organizations to discriminate in their hiring practices against those of other religions, or sexual orientation. The president moved forward, installing faith-based branch offices in a number of federal agencies. By June 2004, he had added the Department of Commerce, the Small Business Administration, and the Department of Veterans Affairs to seven other agencies that had already been involved with faith- based projects.
the Administration’s inability to pass a comprehensive faith-based
package through Congress, “Few if any presidents in recent
history have reached as deeply into or as broadly across the government
to implement a presidential initiative administratively,” Rocke-
feller Institute director Richard Nathan said.
During the 2000 presidential campaign Bush spoke of the ability of faith-based organizations to transform lives. Armed with a great deal of faith, but little data, the Bush “told audiences that religious organizations succeed where others fail ‘because they change hearts, they convince a person to turn their life over to Christ.’ Whenever ‘my administration sees a responsibility to help people,’ he promised, ‘we will look first to faith-based organizations that have shown their ability to save and change lives’” (Amy Sullivan, October 2004 Washington Monthly ).
“Ability to save and change lives”? Perhaps the most startling revelation to come out of U.S. District Court Judge John Shabaz’s early January ruling that federal funding of a prison mentoring program in Arizona—run by MentorKids USA—violated the First Amendment prohibition against the promotion of religion, was the lack of monitoring of faith-based grants by the Department of Health and Human Services, the federal agency that gave the grant to the group.
The case against MentorKids USA was so clear-cut that the DHHS had already withdrawn funding from the program before Judge Shabaz rendered his ruling. In fact, the Department, “asked Shabaz to dismiss the suit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation contending it was moot” because the grant had been withdrawn, the Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin reported. But by the time the grant had been cut off, the MentorKids program already had received $175,000 of the $225,000 three-year grant it had been promised in 2003.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said that a DHSS spokesperson told her, “It was up to watchdog groups…to monitor the activities of groups getting federal funding.” That, Gaylor pointed out, essentially means that “the government has no guidelines in place or desire to monitor these groups.”
In 2002, the Texas Freedom Network Educational Fund looked closely at Texas’s faith-based initiative, established in 1996 when Texas, under the leadership of then-Governor George W. Bush, “launched an aggressive campaign to facilitate the delivery of social services by faith-based providers.”
“The Texas Faith-Based Initiative at Five Years: Warning Signs as President Bush Expands Texas- Style Program to National Level,” a report covering the first five years of the initiative, found that:
- Loosening regulations over faith-based providers has not served the faith community at large, but has instead provided a refuge for facilities with a history of regulatory violations, a theological objection to state oversight, and a higher rate of abuse and neglect
- Loosening regulations over faith-based providers has endangered people in need and lowered standards of client health, safety, and quality of care in Texas
- Faith-based deregulation has allowed physical diseases to go medically untreated
- Regulatory changes have resulted in preferential treatment of faith-based providers in government contracting opportunities
- Taxpayer funds have been co-mingled with church funds and spent on overtly religious activities
- Clients have been ordered by the courts to attend unlicensed faith-based providers
After four years and more than one billion dollars given to faith- based organizations, are they serving the needs of the poor better than secular organizations or government-run agencies? Certainly, with an Administration obsessed with “results” there must be studies proving the efficacy of its faith- based theories. But there aren’t; according to Amy Sullivan, few if any such studies exist. In her Washington Monthly s tory entitled “Faith Without Works”: “After four years, the president’s faith-based policies have proven to be neither compassionate nor conservative” (www.washingtonmonthly.com), Sullivan points out that the Administration has failed to systematically track and “monitor the effectiveness” of programs run by faith- based organizations.
“The policy of funding the work of faith-based organizations has, in the face of slashed social service budgets, devolved into a small pork-barrel program that offers token grants to…religious constituencies…while making almost no effort to monitor their effectiveness….”
“Results, results, results,” was Bush’s oft-repeated mantra going as far back as the 2000 campaign. So where do we stand in terms of measuring “results?” According to Sullivan, “It turns out that the Bush administration forgot to require evaluation of organizations that receive government grants.” An August 2004 study released by the Pew-funded Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy found that “while more elaborate scientific studies are underway, the White House has relied on largely anecdotal evidence to support the view that faith-based approaches produce better long-term results.”
Sullivan concludes, “There is no evidence that faith-based organizations work better than their secular counterparts; and, in some cases, they are actually less effective.”
In one study funded by the Ford Foundation, investigators found that faith-based job training programs placed only 31 percent of their clients in full-time employment while the number for secular organizations was 53 percent. A Texas-based drug program, often spoken highly of by Bush, Teen Challenge, saw its much ballyhooed 86 percent rehabilitation rate fall apart under examination—the number doesn’t include those who dropped out of Teen Challenge and relies on a disturbingly small sample of those graduates who self-reported whether they had remained sober, significantly tilting the results.
In August 2003, Mark Kleinman of Slate , the online magazine, took a close look at Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship program called the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a Bible-centered prison program. Examining a University of Pennsylvania study that claimed high success rates for the InnerChange program, Kleinman found that the InnerChange participants actually did somewhat worse than the control group and were slightly more apt to be re-arrested and re-imprisoned.
The Penn study employed “selection bias” or “creaming,” Kleinman pointed out, allowing InnerChange to ignore participants that dropped out or were kicked out of the program, or who, for some other reasons, never finished the program.
Bush Looks to the States
I n his second term Bush is “setting its sights on money doled out by the states,” for social services, the Associated Press recently reported. “The goal is to persuade states to funnel more of the federal money for social service programs that they administer to ‘faith-based organizations.’”
To encourage states to participate, the White House has hosted a series of conferences. Jim Towey, the director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives who was also recently appointed assistant to the president, has met with state leaders, and the president “has personally lobbied governors,” the AP reported. “The White House office also is providing states with technical assistance in setting up their own faith-based offices.” Thus far some 21 governors—both Democrat and Republican—have set up their own faith-based offices.
The White House isn’t alone in tutoring faith-based groups about how to apply for government grants. The Community & Faith- Based Grants Institute, an organization run by the Tucson, Arizona-based Faith-Based Institute (www.faithbasedinstitute.com) is offering a “video seminar on Faith Based Initiative grant writing [which] picks up where the free grant writing seminars by the government leave off.”
The Institute has lined up an impressive array of former administration insiders and veterans of various U.S. charities as seminar instructors, including: Dave Donald- son, the founder and CEO of We Care America (www.wecare america.org), “an organization that identifies faith-based models and works to strengthen and multiply them to help those in need. Donaldson works closely with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to educate and engage the Christian community on the Faith-Based Initiative”; Michael McCarthy, the manager of The Center for Capacity Development (www.centerforcapacity.org), “a fee-for-service division of The WorkPlace, Inc., Southwestern Connecticut’s Regional Workforce Development Board”; Amy Sher- man, a Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute’s Welfare Policy Center and the founder and former executive director of Charlottesville Abundant Life Ministries, “a holistic, cross-cultural, whole-family, church-based outreach in an urban neighborhood of approximately 380 lower-income, single-parent families”; and Dr. Stanley Carlson- Thies, the Director of the Civitas Program in Faith in Public Affairs, The Center for Public Justice (www.cpjustice. org) and former OFBCI staff member.
Jim Towey sees a bright future for faith-based organizations to shoulder a larger part of the load in providing for people in need. “We’re on the sunrise side of the mountain,” he proclaimed.
As poverty deepens at home, the president’s faith-based initiative, built on faith, fabrications, and fantasy, is now heading toward a state near you.
Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative movements.
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