Faith-Based Initiatives Pose Some Problems

By Pat Robertson

Under a system based on fairness, institutions established by American citizens who hold religious beliefs should stand on an equal footing with those institutions established for secular and non-religious purposes. There is absolutely no Constitutional rationale that would permit Federal grants in excess of $100,000,000 to be paid, for example, to a secular institution like Planned Parenthood, yet would deny Catholic and Jewish charities or the Salvation Army the privilege of being awarded Federal funds to aid the sick, the destitute, or the culturally deprived.

Throughout the history of the United States, faith-based organizations have established an exemplary record of community service. Their work is efficient, lasting, and accomplished with an economy of scale which the federal government is unable to emulate.

The Faith-Based Initiative proposed by President Bush is an official acknowledgment of the tremendous role that faith-based institutions play in society as mediating agents between those in need and what seems an enormously expensive and often coldly impersonal governmental social service bureaucracy.

Having said that, we must realize that the genius of faith-based organizations lies in their religious mission. Teen Challenge achieves a remarkable eighty-percent (80%) cure rate for teenage drug addicts because they lead the young people to faith in Jesus Christ and then painstakingly instruct them in biblical principals of Christian living.

Chuck Colson¡¯s Prison Fellowship achieves equally startling results with released prison inmates for the very same reason. It is faith in Christ plus a network of loving Christian support groups rather than psychological rehabilitation that brings about a recidivism rate for inmates helped by Prison Fellowship that is four times more effective than the recidivism rate of inmates released from government-backed, secular prisons without such help.

Catholic schools provide superior education in the inner cities, not only because of superior pedagogy, but because of the strong Christian moral teaching and discipline which pervade Catholic schools.

Herein lies the problem with government-assisted, faith-based charity. If government provides funding to the thousands of faith-based institutions but, under a tortured definition of separation of church and state, demands in return that those institutions give up their unique religious activities, then not only the effectiveness of these institutions but possibly their very raison d'être may be lost.

There is a second disturbing problem. Under our settled Constitutional law, government may not engage in content discrimination of speech. The same government grants given to Catholics, Protestants, and Jews must also be given to the Hare Krishnas, the Church of Scientology, or Sun Myung Moon¡¯s Unification Church¡ªno matter that some may use brainwashing techniques, or that the founder of one claims to be the messiah and another that he was Buddha reincarnated.

Under the proposed Faith-Based Initiative, all must receive taxpayer funds if they provide ¡°effective¡± service to the poor. In my mind, this creates an intolerable situation.

I propose a modest modification to the Bush plan. Those faith-based organizations which desire federal assistance could request an audit by the new Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, which audit would be based on objective criteria not the least of which would be financial integrity, record-keeping, supervision, and basic accountability. Assuming these organizations were performing approved services for those less fortunate in society, they could be listed in an annual government registry, along with a list of those projects that the government wishes to support.

Then private individuals and corporations could make donations to the faith-based institution of their choice among those listed, and the donations could, in turn, be designated by the donor for a desired worthy project or projects. The charity would then be required to segregate these designated funds and be prepared to document the fact that the donated funds were used in the manner specified.

In turn, the government would not be making direct grants of federal money, but would offer dollar-for-dollar tax credits (not deductions) to the donors who give to approved projects.

In this way, and in the spirit of volunteerism, a vast private network of caring citizens would be participating in, and having a degree of oversight over, the thousands of faith-based initiatives throughout the land.

As a consequence: 
• A new swarm of federal regulators would not be required to monitor this program

• The government would not be forced to intrude upon the religious activities of worthy charities
• The government would not be placed in the position of directly subsidizing religious practices which might seem anathema to most Americans.

I want the Bush Faith-Based plan to succeed. With slight modification, it will succeed. Otherwise, I see trouble down the road.

© PatRobertson.com