urban institute nonprofit social and economic policy research

Federal Faith-Based Initiatives

Small-Scale Implementation, Large-Scale Implications?

Document date: December 06, 2005
Released online: December 06, 2005

ROBERT REISCHAUER: Why we don't we get under way? You brought yourself to silence—(laughter)—I feel compelled to speak. My name is Bob Reischauer. I am the president of the Urban Institute.

And I want to welcome you all here to this First Tuesday gathering. These are monthly forums that we have here at the Urban Institute to showcase Urban Institute research and Urban Institute experts and hear the perspectives of other experts and other practitioners on the topics that we are studying, and also to provide an opportunity to engage in a broader dialogue with an interested and informed audience such as yourselves.

I want to bring to your attention a little advertisement about another series that we are going to start in January with the Chapin Hall Center for Children. It's going to be called Thursday's Child and is going to focus on the topics related to children and families in communities. And you can look on our web site or sign up to get notices for that series, which will be held monthly.

Today we are here to discuss federal faith-based initiatives. There are some people who think that this is something that came to the floor with the Bush administration, but that clearly is not the case. This is an initiative or thrust that actually began long before the Bush administration; it's likely to continue long after the Bush administration is gone.

We seem to be at a point in our social and policy development where we can discuss the role that faith-based organizations can play in the implementation and even in the formulation of public policy. These organizations, as we all know, often have priorities and interests that are very similar to those of the public sector and there is every reason in the world to think of ways which these two sectors can work collaboratively and cooperatively together.

We are, in a sense, in the initial phases of this evolution, I think, finding out what the relative capacities are of these organization, how effective they might be, under what circumstances and in which areas they might be the most effective—both substantive, geographic, and demographic—and how at the same time as we move forward in this area, we can preserve the historic and constitutional separation of church and state.

We have a first-class group of people to inform us and stimulate the discussion. We are going to start off with Rikki Kramer who is a senior consultant on social welfare and poverty and the Urban Institute. She is a member of the Labor and Human Services and Population Center here at the Institute and has a lot of experience developing direct service programs both in the District of Columbia and in New York.

She has done program evaluation for the National Research Council and consulted with the Government Accountability Office, although when you were there it was the Accounting Office, so we can be right and wrong at the same time.

She is going to be followed by Dr. Stanley Carlson-Thies, who is the director of social policy at the Center for Public Justice, where he has been for the past 13 years with a brief hiatus when he was on the initial staff of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in the White House. So he brings the perspective from the center of power, so to speak, and the public sector.

Melissa Rogers, who is a visiting professor of religion and public policy at the Wake Forest Divinity School, will speak next. She was the executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, and I gather must have been a lawyer or is a lawyer because she was the general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs.

Unfortunately, Reverend Jacqueline Thompson couldn't join us, but we are just as fortunate, I think, to have Tom Bowen in her place. Tom is the minister of fellowship and outreach at the Shiloh Baptist Church here in Washington, was for a number of years the senior religious advocate for the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) and a senior field organizer for CDF as well. He also brings the perspective of somebody who was an elected school board official earlier in his career.

So we have a lot of interesting perspectives to channel all of this talent and take it to its highest level. We have Adelle Banks as the moderator, and she is a senior correspondent with Religion News Service, and before joining the Religion News Service, she covered religious issues for the Orlando Sentinel and the Providence Journal, as well as community newspapers in New York.

Now with all of the newspapers having religion sections once a week or even more often, you realize that there must be something behind this, and a lot of it is the work that Religion News Service does and channels the interests and reporting of these mainstream newspapers.

So with that, let me turn this over to Adelle.

ADELLE BANKS: Thank you and welcome to all of you. In the new report form the Urban Institute that is in your packet today, the conclusion begins by Rikki Kramer and three other researchers saying that the implementation of the federal faith-based initiatives is still evolving and the interpretation of those initiatives is also still evolving. So we are going to see how that is being interpreted by a variety of folks here today and hear their different perspectives. And we look forward to hearing your thoughts and answering your questions after they speak. Rikki?

FREDRICA KRAMER: I want to cover three things in a short time for you. First, I want to offer a context for discussion. Second, I want to share some key findings from recent research. And third, with reference to the title question of this forum—"Small-Scale Implementation, Large-Scale Implications?"—I want to suggest some implications of the current policies.

So, first, for a context and a framework for the discussion, we can think of faith-based policies as being implemented on two tracks. The first track is legislatively authorized under the so-called charitable choice provisions, which were introduced under welfare reform in 1996, followed by the introduction of the block grant authorities' governing substance abuse prevention and treatment and community services, which is what we studied in the reference study.

Very simply, the charitable choice provisions allow religious organizations receiving public funds to maintain their religious character—religious symbols, artwork, and their internal governance structures. It exempts faith-based organizations, or FBOs as we sometimes call them, from Title VII civil rights antidiscrimination strictures. So it allows them to use religion in hiring and employment practices.

It also creates some client protections, most importantly, the right to an alternative provider if the organizations so choose and the client chooses, and required notice of that right in TANF and in substance abuse programs. And funds can't be used to support inherently religious activities.

The second track are a variety of administration initiatives operating without legislative authority, usually at a special appropriations or discretionary funding, often with no governmental oversight and the state or local level at the delivery level. Since efforts to expand charitable choice stalled in Congress in 2001, the administration has used a rather broad agenda to advance the policies.

The assumption is that grassroots organizations, perhaps particularly congregation-based programs, are more holistic, they are more effective, and importantly, they have been barred from public funding. This is a highly politically charged set of policies. There is no shared meaning of the term, "faith-based"; it's a term of art that arose out of the discussion around welfare reform. So the counting exercises about how many FBOs are participating in government funds is often quite confused and finally largely meaningless.

We have now studied FBO involvement since charitable choice in several cities under all three HHS block grant authorities and the Compassion Capital Fund, one of the largest of these discretionary initiatives. And we have looked at the role of faith in these different programs.

So, second, what do we know so far? I draw largely on what I and Finegold, De Vita, and Wherry studied in the longer paper and the short summary that you have in your folder, but the findings are remarkably consistent across many studies. Religious organizations, first of all, like Catholic Charities, Jewish Social Services, and Lutheran Family Services, have received public funding for many years.

State and local governments continue to look to FBOs, both large ones like those and small ones, to reach hard-to-reach populations, to fill critical service gaps, but they find few FBOs that have already received public funds ready and able to compete under public rules.

Charitable Choice did not bring any new money. So this little change in the numbers or the actual contractors that we find under the block grant structures—depending on the program, is from nothing to maybe under about a fifth of public contracting. There are many new FBOs, in contrast, under the Compassion Capital Fund, and "many" means 50 to 70 percent in two of the cities we studied that were actually contracting out went to faith-based organizations.

Many are congregation-based where religion may play an important role in the actual services delivered. There is little to no monitoring of faith content of services. Contract monitoring is generally restricted to financial audit concerns. Grant monitoring is always less stringent. The notice requirements had not been implemented in any of the places we looked in the study that you have in your packets; in fact, it wasn't clear who was actually responsible, either the funding agency or the provider.

Agencies and providers attempt to separate religion from publicly funded program components and make participation voluntary. This is the way they are trying to follow the law, but the boundaries can be very porous.

And what I mean by that is mentoring that is Christ-centered or God-affirming, but the public funds only pay for case management; church attendance is mandatory, but worship is not—I'm drawing different examples from different programs of course—Bible stories are used among other materials as reading primers for children; Bible study and church attendance is mandatory and central to an ex-offender program, for instance.

Voluntariness can be very problematic for those in prison or prisoner reentry programs, for those in court-ordered substance abuse treatment, for those who are involuntarily committed for mental health issues, or for children. We don't know how far the protections reach down into the subcontract level or into the programs operating without legislative or regulatory guidance and with little government oversight.

Using religion as a motivator, particularly in programs aimed at personal transformation, is very appealing, and thus the interest in substance abuse programs and offender reform, and there are probably very many good programs for which religion is either a critical element for the staff or helps clients.

But there is no rigorous research to demonstrate its effectiveness, and there is none to test theories of transformation that would allow us to understand what in these programs might make them more effective and be able to apply them to other services, other cross-faiths, or in a secular setting.

So the last question, what difference does this all make? What really are the implications? Implementation is still evolving as we have said. It could increase markedly in programs that are not affected by the direct grants that don't involve state and local governments or where the local culture or politics would encourage it.

Many programs look different to those of us who have studied these programs over many decades, and many feel the boundaries have indeed shifted between what could have been done before and what is now acceptable.

Separation and voluntariness are often murky, as I have described; many clients can't realistically exercise choice, and choice in the end depends upon availability. Substance abuse programs are notoriously difficult to get into with weeks and months of waiting lists. Services are unavailable in rural areas. Clients in custody may be reluctant to seek alternatives that could jeopardize their chances of release.

When we introduce religion into the public space, we have to be concerned with coercion (passive persuasion included), inclusion and exclusion, and segregation along religious lines. We have to raise the sensitivity of both those who oversee and those who deliver human services about how coercion or persuasion works and in effect, therefore, what proselytizing means.

The evidence so far gives us not a lot of confidence that protections are in place or that these issues even have been given much thought in order to build the protections that would be necessary. Thanks.

MS. BANKS: Stanley.

STANLEY CARLSON-THIES: I want to talk just a little bit more about those church-state rules that Rikki mentioned, and then why implementation has been slow, and then briefly about a continuing lack in the Faith-Based Initiative.

I have always had a pretty sober view of the Faith-Based Initiative. I don't think it's a silver bullet that is going to inevitably save tax dollars and solve all social ills, and I don't think either it is a premeditated assault on the Constitution designed to give religious groups money in return for votes.

But I think it is, although a more mundane process, still very important. I think it is a collection of changes, a shift in orientation, and basically the goal is to make sure that all of the kinds of groups that people depend on and in which they invest their energy to build up communities that they can get their rightful support in the public square.

And I think it's that broader picture that tells us why the Faith-Based Initiative has stimulated all kinds of research into what congregations do and what is happening broadly across communities; it's why an important part of the agenda has been tax-law changes to increase private giving; it is why effort has gone into building capacity of grassroots organizations, whether or not they are going to ever seek government money; and it's also why there has been all of this emphasis on reforming the conditions under which organizations can get government money, and that has been the contested area. So why go down that path?

Well, it's partly because, as the Urban Institute study suggested, many officials feel that some of these groups can fill critical service gaps and reach individuals that otherwise aren't going to be reached by publicly funded programs. So that is one reason.

I think the other reason is kind of simple: equal treatment or equal opportunity, that all qualified providers ought to have a chance to take part, and whether a lot have come to the table or only a few, I think trying to create that equal opportunity has been an important step. I think it's getting the government to catch up to where the courts are on equal opportunity.

Well, let me say something about those federal church-state standards. There are two, and they are slightly different. One we have just heard about again, which was charitable choice, but because that only applies to a few programs, by executive order the president said let's apply similar principles to the extent possible within the law across all of the other programs.

And that was done by executive order in 2002, and during the course of 2004 in a normal regulatory process, these principles, very similar to charitable choice, were applied to all of the other federal social spending programs. So these rules have added to the general administrative regulations in departments like HHS and the Department of Justice and so on.

Both sets of standards basically say five things. One of them is that all organizations that are doing what the government wants to have done ought to have a chance to compete for the money, whether they are secular or religious. Then, if they are paid directly by the government, they can't put religion into the government-funded service. That is a standard, although it's not always abided by.

Third, people seeking help can't be discriminated against on the basis of religion or the lack of religion. And any religious activities are supposed to be voluntary; that is what people are signing contracts to say they are going to do. Fourth, faith-based organizations taking part can still retain a faith environment and faith characteristics in the organization.

Fifth, when the funding is indirect with something like vouches, then religion can be in the government's supported service because people have a choice of where they go, and for the courts, that makes it constitutional for faith to be woven into a service. I think these are simple but far-reaching principles. And if you are worried that the Faith-Based Initiative is about ramming religion down people's throats, at least that is not what the principles say it ought to be about.

Now, these principles—charitable choice and equal treatment, almost exactly the same—govern all federal social spending, whether spent by the federal government or state and local officials. But as you have heard, they are only slowly making a change in practice, so let me say a few things about that.

One thing I would say is that there is a continuing domination of the norm or ideal of extreme church-state separationism. Of course, we can't have a state church in this country, and we shouldn't, or enforced religion, but there has always been collaboration, and these rules were designed to make that collaboration more flexible...

But I think extreme separationism—something we have all grown up on—not just officials, but many faith-based organizations, many reporters, think tanks—that is kind of the ideal in many people's minds. And in the larger Urban Institute study, there is a little reflection on Alabama, a Bible-belt state, in which officials were very reluctant to think about partnering with religious organizations.

The study says after charitable choice, organizations have said, well, maybe we can do this, but I have talked to Alabama officials just in the last month who still seem to think that church-state rules prevent them from doing the things that the regulations say they can do. So there is still that kind of lingering hold of a certain idea.

Second, I think it takes a lot of time for organizations that have been excluded from government support to turn around and learn how to compete. Groups that weren't welcome didn't spend much time figuring out how to be configured to be able to access government money, even to pay attention to funding announcements. So if now government officials say you're welcome, it takes a long time to get people's attention to change, get them to put in place the requirements that would fit them for that.

Third, the news about the civic details of the new federal standards are only slowly getting down to state and local officials, and that is important because about 80 or 90 percent of this federal money is spent by state and local officials. So if they are not paying attention to the new standards, then effectively the new standards don't govern all of this money.

There is a long distance between federal intentions and state and local practice, and a lot of conflicting imperatives in there. And that lack of communication has both to do with the eligibility of faith-based organizations and whether certain rules are communicated and enforced, and I think I am worried about both of those.

I would emphasize that these standards are very recent compared to the many decades in which the federal government said something else to state and local governments. For many decades, the courts and federal officials and government lawyers said pervasively sectarian organizations, groups that look very religious, are ineligible to take part. And for the government now to say they can take part, that takes a long time to work it through the bureaucracy.

I think what is going to be really important then is states that kind of energize themselves and develop pilot programs, as a number of them are doing to reach out specifically to new groups and find ways to include them.

I will conclude with a criticism of the Faith-Based Initiative. I think, in a certain sense, there is not enough religion in government-funded services. If somebody is required to go to a service, they shouldn't be required to take part in religious activities. But a lot of people would love to get services that have a religious focus, and that can be done through indirect funding. That is constitutional.

The Faith-Based Initiative said we are going to do that; we are going to do vouchers. How many have seen vouchers come down the road? Hardly anything has been done. But the courts have actually validated a way of modifying contracting that would guarantee people a choice, and I think that is a path that ought to be traveled.

Until that happens, I think a lot of faith-based organizations that have been hanging back will continue to hang back because they feel like when they come to the table, they are told they can't do many of the things that they think are essential for providing the kinds of services that they think will really change people. So we have got to find a way to give them the freedom to do that while protecting the religious rights of beneficiaries. Thank you.

MS. BANKS: Thank you, Stanley. Melissa?

MELISSA ROGERS: Thank you. Good afternoon. First, I want to thank Rikki Kramer and her colleagues for this excellent study that they have done. I think it is really informative, and I am so encouraged that it is now ready for us all to read and to learn from. And I want to thank the Urban Institute for this event today. I can't tell you how happy I am that we are getting the chance to discuss real hard research about what is going on in the field and to look at the ramifications of that research for policymaking and for litigation.

So I also want to thank the other panelists. And I see so many friends in the crowd who are yourselves recognized experts in the field. So I look forward to the discussion that we are going to have in a few minutes.

In 1999, I wrote an article entitled "The Wrong Way to Do Right," taking issue with aspects of what has come to be known as the Faith-Based Initiative. I continue to have concerns about the initiative today. We have been encouraged today to look forward, however, so I am going to take the little bit of time that I have now to talk a bit about the right way to do right, if you will.

I believe, at the outset, the focus has to be how do we best serve those in need. That focus should dictate governmental action; not attempts to score points in the culture wars. And especially in Katrina's wake, there must be a clear affirmation of the fact that religious organizations and nongovernmental organizations generally cannot handle these enormous demands by themselves, and that we must substantially increase the resources that we devote to human needs.

Astonishingly, we are headed in the exact opposite direction. As you know, pending legislation would make devastating cuts in social supports. Moreover, as Rikki mentioned, there has not been new money in most situations. And while tax cuts for the richest among us have been a clear priority in recent years, tax incentives that would spur charitable giving clearly have not. Well, these trends I believe must be reversed before we can get truly serious about helping those in need.

Now, let me move to the idea of financial partnerships and specifically financial partnerships between the government and religious groups. And here I am going to focus on the partnerships that are formed through grants and contracts, which is the most typical arrangement. I believe in this area we need responsible church-state rules and rhetoric, rules and rhetoric that honor both our commitment to serve those in need and also our historical commitment to church-state separation and to religious liberty.

What are some of the duties that the government owes religious providers that provide government-funded social services? First, religious providers deserve as much consistency and clarity in church-state rules as we can possibly provide. In the past, there has been a patchwork of rules in this area; some made perfect sense, others a little less so. We need to take steps to provide greater clarity and consistency here. But in the process of doing so, we shouldn't sacrifice important values like governmental neutrality on church-state matters and the religious freedom of beneficiaries.

Second, religious providers deserve straight talk about the law. Governmental officials shouldn't tap dance around the tough issues and say only what they think religious groups want to hear or what is politically attractive to third parties, and too many times I believe there just has not been straight talk about the Faith-Based Initiative.

And we can talk about it more in the discussion period, but I think this happens in at least two ways. One is that the proponents of the Faith-Based Initiative have been insufficiently clear on what the law actually allows in terms of the association of religious activities with a government-funded program.

And on the other side, I think that the Faith-Based Initiative proponents have at times been pushing the constitutional envelope but not telling the religious providers that they are doing that, thus inviting the religious providers to get ensnarled in litigation. And the providers of course are unwitting in their involvement in that risk, and I think that should not occur.

Third, religious groups, as well as other NGOs, should have more access to technical assistance in education, particularly for efforts that help congregations to form separate 501(c)(3) entities. It is irresponsible, if not unconstitutional, to allow the government to channel funds directly to congregations as the Faith-Based Initiative allows. We don't want the government to search through congregational activities and records, for example.

And I think Rikki's report documents the fact that congregations aren't ready to take on these responsibilities. And it's my conclusion that 501(c)(3) separate entities are the way that we should go. But I recognize that technical assistance and education is often needed to help religious providers form these separate organizations.

Fourth, religious groups must ensure that government-funded services don't contain religious activities or instruction, but religious groups shouldn't be excluded from receiving government monies simply because they have a religious name or because they have some religious symbols or offer some religious activities. Having said that, any religious activities must be clearly separate from the government program, privately subsidized, and purely voluntary.

And that brings me to the next question, which is what about some of the duties the government owes beneficiaries and Americans generally? First, the government and religious groups can partner to serve those in need, but the government should not be a partner in the inculcation of faith.

By our Constitution's design, this, the inculcation of faith, is the sole province of religion and properly so. But when religious content is woven into a government-funded program, the government becomes a partner in promoting religion; thus, government-funded programs should not include religious content. And I want to mention the fact that Professors "Chip" Lupu and Bob Tuttle have written about this issue and its place in Supreme Court precedent in a very insightful way.

Frankly, I think that the approach of the Faith-Based Initiative here has been a recipe for disaster. It has mixed together some fairly weak standards that often aren't adequately explained, emphasized, or enforced with rhetoric that actually encourages religious providers to weave religious content into government-funded programs.

For example—and this is just one instance—President Bush has said things like—and I am quoting here—"Faith-based programs are only effective because they do practice faith." Once again, religious providers deserve an approach that doesn't lead them astray. Beneficiaries deserve an approach that doesn't pressure them to get religion simply because they are trying to access government-funded benefits. And Americans deserve an approach that recognizes that religious groups should promote religion, not the government.

I also think that we need to ensure that beneficiaries have real religious freedom rights and not just paper religious freedom rights. And I would like to talk about that hopefully more in our discussion session.

And, third, while religious organizations should be permitted to hire and fire on the basis of religion with respect to positions that they fund with their own money, they should not discriminate on the basis of religion with respect to government-funded jobs. No one should be denied a government-funded job in America because they aren't the, quote, unquote, "right religion."

Finally, government officials should talk about these issues in ways that honor our tradition of religious freedom. Many proponents of the Faith-Based Initiative have consistently attempted to suggest that this policy debate is between those who value religion and those who want to oppress it. This is politically convenient but it is not accurate. As with almost all policy debates, there are people who deeply value religion on both sides, and it is time for our elected leaders to say so.

So in conclusion, I believe that we must overcome poverty and we can and should do so while protecting religious liberty for everyone. Thank you.

MS. BANKS: Thank you, Melissa. You have heard the perspectives about the federal programs that we are aware of and that we are learning more about from three folks. Now we get to learn about it on the ground. And we are going to hear from Minister Thomas Bowen about his perspective.

THOMAS BOWEN: Thank you, and thank you for the opportunity to represent one of the entities that is on the ground and actually trying to do the work.

I must start off by saying that Shiloh is a unique church. I say that because we are talking about faith-based organizations as if perhaps in some cases they are all similar. Both I and the president call ourselves Christian, but we don't agree on many things. (Laughter.) Shiloh is about a 142-years-old church founded on the hills of slavery by a few individuals who themselves were former slaves and made the migration from Fredericksburg, Virginia, to Washington, D.C.

We have been involved in areas of social service and human services throughout the long history of our church, and indeed we trace our roots not to some of the rioting of Marvin Olasky, but more so to some of the thoughts of Walter Rauschenbusch, the father of the social gospel, believing that the church, if it is indeed to be the church, should be out there trying to help those in need.

In 1982, under the leadership of then Reverend Henry C. Gregory III, Shiloh decided to open and operate a Family Life Center Foundation and to establish a 501(c)(3) status. That was in 1982. That was prior to the year 2000 and prior to the year 2004. And we decided to open up a Family Life Center Foundation to meet the needs of those who are hurting in the community. Indeed, we sought to link our hurting community with what we believe to be a healing God.

And since that time, we have established several programs. We have the Teen Mothers Take Charge, Church Community Partnerships against HIV/AIDS, and a male-youth project; we have a senior center, and we also have a day care program. In fact, our day care center has been operating since 1958.

And we have been receiving government funding since 1990, and most of that is from the D.C. government. We did at one point in time receive one federal grant. I believe that was from the Department of Justice to help with our afterschool program, the male enhancement project. But in the last four years, we have received some $2 million in funding from the government.

And I say that because you need to know once again that we were already in business; we didn't just open up our doors when opportunities came our way. In fact, we have been slow to take advantage of some of the funding as it has been termed.

Shiloh is unique in that we do have a 501(c)(3) and we do have a Family Life Center Foundation with a board. But the problem is that many churches you hear about with faith-based funding lack sophistication. They don't have the infrastructure. Money is doled out without the necessary technical assistance, and it has landed too many good-intending folk in trouble.

So one of the things that we know that we would like to see is that congregations who are going after or who are applying for federal dollars—I think, not after but before—they need technical assistance, and before they apply. They need to start thinking about capacity building and they need government to help them along those particular lines. We are seeing too many stories in the papers these days about churches who are being investigated for several things, and I think that has been part of our reluctance.

But also a part of the reluctance that we have—and I think who articulates this best is Cornel West in Democracy Matters—and that is a huge concern that religion may become co-opted by the state, and we might find ourselves facing what Cornel says is Constantine-top religion, or we might find ourselves doing what Stephen Carter at Yale says is taking the Lord's name in vain.

The church that we are, the church that Shiloh is a part of, which is aligned with the American Baptist Church USA, which has its roots in Rhode Island, which is aligned with the progressive National Baptist Convention that has its roots with Garner Taylor and Dr. King, who founded it in opposition to a national Baptist church, which says those black ministers were too involved in the civil rights movement—we believe that the church ought to be prophetic, speak truth to power. That is the concern—that if we speak out against those who are giving us money, will they sit down and order a taste of our service and call us into question of what we have actually been doing? Because we have been doing this, like I said, for 142 years, and we are not new on the scene.

I think some of the concern too is that those who come to churches, particularly like Shiloh for the services, they might be proselytizing. Well, we are on the opposite end of that, and this has caused many of our colleagues to question our evangelical credentials, and that is that most of the people we serve don't come back to Shiloh on Sunday, and in fact people look at the church and say this is a well-to-do, sure, but they don't come during the week and see the people that we are actually helping.

I have spent many of years doing youth ministry at Shiloh and most of the young people were not the children of the members, they were the members from the Shiloh area community no one ever saw. And we took a hit for that, but at the same time, I think it's a good thing that we are not reaching out to these young people and saying you can come back here as long as I see you at church on Sunday morning.

The other thing that I'm proud about Shiloh is that we hire without regard to a person's faith position. But my daddy always said if you can count your money, you don't have any. Whereas I can't count the number of people who are not Christian, I am still happy that we do have them, that they are a part of our staff because there is indeed value there, and I take issue with those entities that would seek to hire those who are only Christian.

And I want to stop there, one because I was tapped to do this at 10:00 this morning—(laughter)—and I know my thoughts are perhaps scattered, but I also believe that most of the questions and answers will come in the Q and A, and I'm just excited to see perhaps what you might have to say about this topic.

MS. BANKS: Thank you very much, Minister Bowen.

I just wanted to ask one question to the panel before we move on to what all of you are wondering about. I checked the White House web site this morning to see what the latest numbers were on the state initiatives—that there is the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives at the White House level, but there are also many on the state level. It's now up to about 30 different states that have their own programs or centers or people who work for a particular governor on this particular topic.

So I'm wondering, now that we have looked at both the local level and the federal level, what the sense of the panelists are of the effect of the state centers. Are they having an effect at all?

MR. CARLSON-THIES: I think you have to say that they are extremely diverse in what they do, how they have been in—how much authority they have; to what extent are they are the governors of, you know, of persons, and are kind of an outreach; to what extent they are intended to look internally and have some authority to talk about programs and program design; whether they are connected with a bipartisan support as some of them are and some of them aren't—I think all of those things make a huge difference.

I think some of them are making a difference, but I will say this is a typical problem in social science. Are some states that are doing creative things like, say, Ohio, is that because they have a faith-based office, or is the state, because it has been working at this kind of thing bipartisanly for six or seven years? Is it that that whole environment is ripe for change, and one reflection of that is that there is an office of faith-based and community initiative?

So I think it provides a kind of a center and a way to concentrate some thinking, but an office by itself can't do anything; it kind of depends on the attitudes and the bureaucracy, and I think even to some extent—well, certainly in the legislature, and then to some extent even in public opinion, whether people think it's worthwhile exploring some new ways to build partnerships or not.

MS. BANKS: Melissa, anything?

MS. ROGERS: I haven't the chance to research the state offices and what I know about them I have just learned from going around to conferences and having people discuss them, so it's anecdotal in nature. But what I usually hear from people that are involved in the state offices is, one, a lament about the lack of funding to do the jobs that they want to do to serve those in need. That is quite prevalent.

And I also hear often a deep confusion about church-state rules and what they need to do. They had one way of working, and now they are being told that it's a different way of working, but they are not quite clear on what that difference is, and they are not quite clear on whether that difference actually is consistent with the Constitution, where it is, where it isn't. So I hear a lot of frustration being voiced from people at the state and local level that have to implement these kinds of programs.

MS. BANKS: Go ahead, Rikki.

MS. KRAMER: There is actually a woman who is finishing her doctoral dissertation on exactly this topic, so you will know very shortly about what the empirical evidence is about the state offices. And what she is has found so far is consistent with both Stanley's and Melissa's comments that the offices actually also come into being and close up as quickly—I mean, looking at the web site or using that count doesn't tell you a whole lot about what is going on at the state.

The second thing is that the enthusiasm or ability to act at the contracting level or at the engagement level is really dependent upon so many other factors in the state that the presence or absence of a state office doesn't tell you that either.

So, for instance, in our study when we looked at Alabama, which culturally would be apt to be very engaging of the faith-based community and wanting to enhance those relationships, the state procurement process was in the process of reform and development, and so there was just not a whole lot of contracting going on anyway. So no matter what is going on at the government's level, it's really going to cut in many different ways at the agency and at the local level.

MS. BANKS: Thank you. Do you want to add anything from the D.C. perspective, working with the D.C. government?

MR. BOWEN: Well, my perspective does not come actually from being in D.C., but from Ohio, and I think when you look at the state offices along these lines—I mean, I hope that we don't get into the same problem again of just looking at political appointees for these positions who then carry out the same thought pattern of the administration; those individuals then will overlook some of the fears and concerns that we have because they see nothing wrong with proselytizing. They see nothing wrong with the congregation wanting to hire people of the same ilk.

So I think that poses a problem when we have state officers that—who is hired, how they are picked, and who is staffing those. Therein begin some of the problems.

MS. BANKS: Thank you. It's your turn now. There are microphones for you to speak into. This is recorded, so we would appreciate you saying your name and your organization before you ask your question. Dive right in, please. One question over here.

Q: Hi, there. My name is Pho Palmer and I'm actually with the Urban Institute, and my question is for Minister Bowen. I am curiously to know when Shiloh started its foundation and when you guys began to go after grants, was it public and private? And do you guys have a grant writer on staff?

MR. BOWEN: Thank you, Ms. Palmer. The foundation was founded in 1982, and initial funding came from members, our congregation. And I think that each budget year, the church gives a significant contribution to the foundation, but then they rely—(audio break, tape change)—I mean, that is what we need. We just have not been able to move along those lines. So our executive director is the one that usually writes the grants. There may be some assistance given to her by members of the board.

Pho Palmer: That was kind of like a piggyback to some research that I have done early with Dr. Carol De Vita. We find that congregations who are successful in obtaining grants, government and private, they have in their congregation pews filled with government grant writers and elected officials. And I know that Shiloh has got—(off mike).

MR. BOWEN: And once again Shiloh is considered more sophisticated. I mean, we have 3,000-plus members. The average church has a hundred or less. And you're talking about religious folk whose idea of fundraising is a tithe, and in some cases car washes and chicken dinners. And now they are trying to compete for million-dollar grants. So trying to sell some of our folks on "let's get a grant writer" becomes very difficult.

MS. BANKS: In the back there?

Q: Thank you. I am Susan Sheets with the Food and Nutrition Service, specifically with the Food Stamp Program. We have a long history of working with faith-based organizations and community-based organizations throughout outreach in the Food Stamp Program. Every year for the past several years, we have been giving grants to organizations to do outreach for the Food Stamp Program.

The common bond here with us is that we all have a mission of ending hunger. I brought some flyers today announcing our new grant period, and we would like each one of you to take a flyer about the grants coming up and distribute them to your constituency. We would like to reach as many faith-based organizations as possible. And there is information online about how to apply for the grant, what you need to do for this grant. There should be no questions, but if there are questions there is a list of people that you can call and get the answers to.

So this we are hoping is clean and clear and will involve as many organizations as possible. Thank you.

MS. BANKS: Thank you. Did you have a question in the front here?

Q: I'm Michael Shearer. I am a reporter from Salon.com. Two or three of you mentioned the extent to which the rules are not being followed. And I wonder—and also sort of hinted that there may be a wink and a nod going on here, that the people put in charge of the programs may be okay with the fact the rules are not being followed. Could you just speak a little bit more about that? Is there evidence that that is happening, that the people currently in charge of the president's program, the executive branch decided this? Are they either not looking, not interested in doing regulation or doing enforcement of the rules that are in place, or sort of willfully allowing these mistakes to happen?

MS. KRAMER: I guess I need to answer that from what we have seen. First to make the distinction, it's not the president's program that we are looking at; these are programs that are being administered at the agency level. In the block programs, there are generally, typically—faith content is not monitored; it's not part of the formal monitoring protocol.

Formal monitoring of contracts is concerned with financial elements and how the money was spent and whether it was spent appropriately in terms of government auditing standards, and it may be monitoring widgets of service—so how many clients were seen? How many widgets of service were delivered? But it's not going to look at faith content; it's not in the protocol. So it's a not a—I can't, and I don't think we wanted to attribute motive to what we saw, but the fact is it's not what would routinely happen.

If contractors—if funders or whoever is in charge of overseeing the funds (sometimes they are contractors as well) do site visits, they are going to do them maybe once or twice a year, and they will see what they see when they come out, and if they see something that looks like it's egregious, they may raise that.

I mean, in one instance, someone reported that one of the contractors had some kind of signage that was questionable, and so they—I don't know what the context is; it was an anecdotal reference to something that happened in some prior years, but this is a very happenstance, serendipitous kind of thing because it's not within their focus. That is one answer.

In Compassion Capital, which we looked at, which is the discretionary program, these are very small grants called sub-awards to congregations and other faith-based organizations. Grants generally are you do something for the money that you say you are going to—that you are collecting, and at the end of the grant—you may write progress reports in between, but it's a very different relationship than a contract relationship, which is saying you have to deliver a certain number of services and we will monitor you on the basis of that. Does that help?

MS. ROGERS: I just wanted to comment on one thing. I could give different examples, but I am going to just focus on one. The administration's regulations in regard to direct financial aid say that—and I'm quoting here—"inherently religious" activities have to be separated from the government-funded program. Well, a problem gets created because the Supreme Court hasn't used that term "inherently religious activities" to define the constitutional limits. It has used broader terms like "specifically religious" or just "religious."

So here is where it can create difficulty. If you talk "inherently religious," it seems to suggest that it only refers to activities that are by their very nature religious, like worship or Bible reading, I guess. But what if we are talking about faith that is being woven in as a motivator into a program, that is being incorporated into instruction about getting off welfare and into work. Is that inherently religious or not?

I think the standard creates some confusion, and I think—Stanley can speak to this as well. I think the confusion actually—there is a divide of some sort. Some people think that the government ought to be able to allow that weaving of faith into a government-funded program. Others think that that is improper. Some people think the Constitution should allow that; some people think that the Constitution shouldn't. I would say the Constitution doesn't allow that.

But I think that reflects some—that kind of generalization there of inherently religious activities, and the term that is used causes some confusion and results in some programs that get challenged. And so that's—I would just cite that particular example as something that reflects a confusing standard and that is resulting in litigation.

MS. BANKS: Stanley, would you like to jump in here?

MR. CARLSON-THIES: Yeah, I think there has not been as clear guidance as there ought to be. And I think one reason for that is that terms are not nearly as neat in real life as lawyers would like them to be. So there are just a lot of instances in our daily lives in public schools and the federal workplace and so on in which religion is a component of discussions that people have, and it's not problematic because there is not a power relationship because it's consensual, you know, all of those kinds of things.

And then to come along and say, well, all religion has to be evacuated just seems to many people—it doesn't quite take account of the realities of the relationships. So I think the language is not as clear as it can be. I don't think the guidance has been as clear as it ought to be.

I think if you would look across programs, you will find that some have more of these issues than others because, for example, the corporation for the national community of service has put down very clear guidelines that they have put out there for many years. Everybody knows what they are. And if anything, there has been perhaps more suppression sometimes of religious expression in private time than there ought to be, but I think different programs are a little bit different.

I would encourage you to—if you would look at research of programs by religiously affiliated organizations preceding charitable choice, it's not like religion was always totally absent from these programs. So it's not like all of the sudden all kinds of things have fluttered in. I think, on the ground, things are just a little bit more complex than that would suggest, and that particularly when you are serving a population of people mainly who are people of faith from the neighborhood and you know them, then I think often program operators don't see why they shouldn't be allowed to talk about things that the client wants to talk about.

MS. ROGERS: I think it is one thing to talk about what is happening on the ground and compare that to what has happened in the past, and I'm sure there is some variety. But it's another thing to talk about guidance that the government gives, and whether that guidance creates confusion and leads to lawsuits.

MS. KRAMER: I mean, it seems to me this begs the question of what the policy is intended to encourage, and I think that that may be where the confusion comes in. If the policy is intended to bring religion into reaction between clients and programs, then this wouldn't be so confusing. We could have lawsuits over it and clarify it. But the policy is not clear at all. I mean, some attribute an interest in bringing religion into the service space and so programs look like they are responding to that. Others would articulate that the policy is really just about bringing organizations closer to target populations and religion doesn't have to be part of that, and the outreach example is a very good one.

It's important to think about what grassroots organizations are best at doing and capitalize on that, and if we did that, we would have less of this confusion. But I think that the policy itself is very unclear, and people attribute to it political motivation in some conversations and other people attribute other things to it, and you have this sort of mash in the actual practice of it.

MS. ROGERS: Can I just add one other thing about the atmospherics? Looking at the guidance is one thing, but also looking at the rhetoric that surrounds the initiative and the outreach that is done on the basis of the initiative is important. As I mentioned earlier, the president has made speeches. I mentioned one of his quotes. Another is, "We want to fund programs that save Americans one soul at a time."

The administration—the report was written by the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy that talked about one outreach program where they bring providers in to talk to them about what they can and can't do under the rules. And the report said that it was more of a tent revival than a government conference. All of these things send messages to people, along with the specific written guidance. And I think it's important to look at all of those things.

MS. BANKS: Thank you. Does anybody want to add one more point on this?

MR. BOWEN: The comment was made in terms of language that was used that has not be used or had not been addressed by the Supreme Court. The issue that we face when dealing with people of faith is that they are not necessarily awaiting for a Supreme Court ruling. (Scattered laughter.) To them it's not the Constitution; it's the Bible. So when we say there are people perhaps who believe that churches should be able to, they are going to make that a matter of importance because of their faith and then they are not going to care what the Constitution says. And that is what we are dealing here with faith. In some cases, it's not the Constitution or the Supreme Court; it's "This is what I believe; this is what my faith tells me," and that puts us in dangerous water.

MS. BANKS: There was a question out in the front. Sir.

Q: Hi. My name is Don Davis with the National Council on the Aging and a deacon in the First Baptist Church in this area. I would like to just raise a question about some of the things you have talked about because the faith-based policies often are adversely affected by rhetoric, as you have indicated, and a lack of any distinct guidelines that clearly identify what you can do with the money, what you can't do with the money.

And when you deal with government grants and contractors—I do it every day—you have to know exactly what is permitted and what is not permitted. And in order for the faith-based approach to be effective, it would appear to me that we need to take the politics out of the arena. And I would like to know from you all what can we do as a society to make the faith-based programs more effective because we need them?

And I know that they can help people in need, but often the money comes with a political angle to it and that tends to turn people off. So from a monitoring standpoint, the faith-based programs would be more effective if we had people at the policy end who could tell us on the receiving end how we can be effective in spending that money, and then we in turn could tell the participants in those programs that receive the services what is going to be provided to them.

Right now it happens to be a complete maze. My church is interested in trying to establish a housing project in Prince George's County, where my church resides. I know that is possible, but at the same time, we run into a lot of bureaucracies in trying to do that. And when the government gives you a government grant, often they come to you with things that are not clearly identified in that grant that they want you to do or not do, and you made reference to some of the policies that President Bush has made, and often that also serves as a negative. So what can we do to bring about changes in all of that?

MS. ROGERS: Well, I thank you for your question, and your experience dealing with government grants and contracts, I think, is invaluable. And I hope that more people like you will get involved in this discussion. We need people like you to tell us, look, I have been involved in this area and I believe that religious partnership between government and religious organizations can work, but here is what they have to do in order to work.

And voices like yours are essential, and that is why I am so glad we are starting to have conversations about how do we fix programs, how do we move forward in a way that truly does help people in need.

I would just add that, again, I think the focus does have to be how do we help people in need. It can't be about trying to fight a culture war. It's not about that, I don't think. I think what unites people is how do we help people in need and let the answers flow out of that question—do our research, have our facts, as Rikki is helping provide—so that we know what works and what doesn't. We base government programs on facts and not on what we hope or believe to be true or what might sound good on the political stump. We do that.

I also think that we need to get back to the idea of giving guidance to people based on our best reading of what the law is and not where we want the law to go someday. That is unfair. To put religious providers in that situation when there is an aggressive pushing of the envelope to get to somewhere new in the church-state field—that is an inappropriate place to put religious social service providers.

I think we need to check that approach and get back to the approach of telling people where the law is and where the safe harbors are where they will not be subject to litigation, and to let those good people do their work and give them the funds to help them help people in need.

MS. BANKS: There is a question in the center of the room.

Q: Hi. My name is Mark Farr with the Points of Light Foundation, which I guess sort of straddles the kind of boundary—tries to call people to service of different kinds and I run the faith part of that organization as well as some other bits.

And my observation is that this whole initiative hasn't gone down—just seeing, going around the country—has gone down as someone mentioned over there—beyond the level of these big organizations who have always got funding, you know, Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, UMCOR just got $66 million from FEMA. And I see them going down to Katrina, but I do not see, as you were saying, local churches, local mosques doing that stuff in a big way. It hasn't happened, as I can see it.

So my question to you is—I guess it's two-fold. Is there some way in which we can move from those big organizations that have always done that stuff if we really want to make this real and go—instead of the top-20 big organizations, which have $3 billion budgets down to the little churches—is there are way to do that? Could we change the initiative in some way and do it better?

And the second one is working in an organization like Points of Light, where we have to think in long-term ways, what is the future of this thing anyway? If that is the case, you know, and if Bush is already kind of getting the feeling he is sort of slipping away, what is the future of this? If Bush disappears and we get, you know, Howard Dean or somebody—probably not Howard Dean, but Hillary Clinton or John McCain, are we going to get a totally different thing? And we have to think about that for our budgets 5 years out and 10 years out. And if it is going to die when he leaves, what are we bothering with anyway, if it just goes back to UMCOR? That is my question.

MS. BANKS: Go ahead, Rikki.

Q: I would be interested particularly in Stanley's answers to that because I think you have done research on that.

MS. KRAMER: We could defer to him first. I'm happy to take my shots— (inaudible).

MR. CARLSON-THIES: I like the softball questions. (Laughter.) I would be extremely surprised if once George W. Bush is gone everything will continue as it has. I would be very surprised if everything went back to pre-charitable choice in 1996 because I think a lot of things have changed and a lot of officials have said, yeah, we have got all of these complexities, we are used to working with these kinds of organizations, but there are organizations' situation out there that work in different ways with people that are different than what we can normally do, and how do we do that?

But, as you have indicated, that is not an easy task. And I think—we have just heard one of the dilemmas here: that money ought not to be just spread out there with the intent that people will do good things with it. It comes with all kinds of rules and auditing and reporting requirements and everything else. Well, very small organizations don't have the capacity to do all that kind of stuff.

And I think in these grant programs that are trying to get money down to the smallest groups, that is kind of what you always discover. Here is somebody who applies for—you know, they have got this great idea, and they say if you give me $300,000, all of these wonderful things will happen in the community, and you think here is somebody who is really trusted; they have an innovative idea; we'd love to see it work. But last year you managed $50,000. How are you going to manage $300,000 next year? And so the money goes to somebody else who knows how to manage it but maybe doesn't have the same roots in the community. And I think that has just been a dilemma I have seen in various grant programs like that.

So one of the things that is always talked about is intermediaries, and how do you find groups? Say it's Shiloh, it's Catholic Charities, it's some organization that knows how to run money, it has connections out in the community. It could act as a hub to draw in more of these groups. And I would say there has been a lot of talk about this for five or six or seven years but not a whole lot of action, and I think it's partly because nobody really wants to invest in intermediaries to help them build a capacity to play this kind of role.

MS. KRAMER: Yeah, I want to add to this and somewhat disagree. First of all, it's not always big organizations historically. And one of the things we actually discussed a lot about is whether we should publish all of the names of the people that are getting money in the report. And I said, they have to do that because we keep hearing this mantra, well, Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services and Jewish Family Services, and then you sort of shut your ears to what the realities are.

There are lots of community hospitals that are religiously based that are getting this money, that are religiously staffed that are getting—I mean, that have been getting this money, is what I mean. So it's not always the big organizations in the past.

It does beg the question of what it is we thought we were doing because you do hear the metaphor very frequently—surprisingly frequently—of a church-based metaphor. It is the person—the reason they can do this is because they volunteer—it's the person you sit next to in church. It's that kind of discussion. So you sort of wonder what it is people have in their minds that the new policy was about.

We do have 40 years or so of experience in dealing with grassroots organizations and sort of bringing them along in terms of what to do. So we know how to do this a little bit. We also know where there are enormous challenges and where the pitfalls are.

And I think it's really important to be alert to the good ideas out there but not be seduced by them so much so that you take organizations which—sounds like a good idea; let's just give it money without putting in place a structure for that program, a monitoring structure for the program, and evaluation structure so you can anticipate how you are going to know what it did in the end and how you are going to know how it related to other things.

I mean, that is the way you do this. And you see people talk before about the very well intentioned programs sort of struggling. You do see even in the use of the Compassion Capital, where you have the use of intermediaries designed exactly to do this, to help the small folks and the new folks do what they can do.

It's the way—the net is cast so broadly to bring sort of whoever can come to the table and be barely sort of credible to come to it that you have in the end a thousand flowers blooming and most of them wilting in the end. And that is not useful. Pardon, I never use metaphors. I should apologize. (Scattered laughter.)

MS. BANKS: We have time for one or two more questions. I see some hands in the back.

Q: Thank you. All right. Joann Schneider, George Washington University. I'm trying to think of a very short way to say this and hand it back. I am very struck by how familiar this conversation is and how we have had it over and over and over again.

I am also very struck about the difference between what is happening here and what is happening on the ground in that the conversation here is very, very much focused on essentially an Evangelical and/or Protestant, but primarily Evangelical way of doing faith-based service—personal transformation, Bible, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And when we look at what is mostly out there, it is inherently religious but it's embedded religion; it's more like the stuff you see at Shiloh. And so that whole set of issues is far less of an issue on the ground in many places than we keep hearing in Washington.

The second piece is a congregation piece where they are very active. They are doing a lot of stuff, but they are doing what they consider appropriate, and it's not often formal programs; it's a partnered program.

And so I'm wondering given this and given the third piece, which is that a lot of these programs—you are having a self-selection for the ones where you have got—you know, when we were looking at this, we were seeing the programs that were doing the Bible study, et cetera—were self-selecting people who wanted to be there.

So I'm wondering what it would take for the Washington debate to broaden out to include what is really happening in a lot of these organizations and to look at it from something other than this Protestant, Evangelical perspective.

MS. BANKS: Do we have a response on the panel?

MS. KRAMER: We didn't look at it from this end. We went out—I mean, you can accuse us of sort of being inside the Beltway, incorrigibly inside the Beltway, but we weren't; we were looking at it on the ground and taking pains to figure out how to codify what was going on there so we could understand whether it was your embedded faith in the best sense or whether it was other things that were questionable.

So I think we did see a lot in the Compassion Capital that was the latter, that was questionable, that was not the kind of activities that you—it's not embedded faith in the sense that people are doing this as part of their mission, but it's explicit faith and funny explanations for separation and voluntariness.

So I say that by way of not challenging the fact that there ought to be and there is a tremendous amount of the kind of activities with embedded faith, with a mission that propels what service is being delivered. But there is a lot of the other stuff that didn't used to go on I don't think. I mean, I don't have an audit of the United States prior to this, but it certainly feels like it didn't go on in other programs that we saw historically.

MS. BANKS: Last question.

Q: Hi. I'm Joan Huffer with Senator Conrad's office. And there has sort of been a lot of discussing on the surface about the issue of what actually is having an impact, but I'm wondering what kind of research is going on there. What do we know—you know, that we are talking about—what about bang for the buck? Is it really working? Is there any work going on at this level to try and figure this out? This program has been out there a while. Is there any evaluation going on?

MS. KRAMER: There is very little. The Compassion Capital is being evaluated on its terms, which is correct, which is what the effect of capacity building is for these organizations. But in terms of—I think what you are asking is whether they are effective or more effective than secular. There are some very nascent pieces on that but basically we don't know much.

MR. CARLSON-THIES: I would add to that. I think one of the good things is that this is a question that is on the table for researchers and PhD students that wasn't there for a long time for any kinds of programs. So I think that is positive. As far as I can tell from the research that has been done so far, there is no general conclusion you can draw that is to say that secular programs are always better or worse—faith-based are always better or worse, so it's very diverse. Some of them are very good and some of them are very bad.

There is some interesting work that has been done over the last few years in welfare-to-work programs, for example—you know, job training. And some of that shows that there are some particular strengths that very community-oriented groups, that a little bit more abstract programs don't have, like, say, a community college. And some of that has to do with whether they are faith-based, whether they are community centered, things like that.

So I think there is some interesting research. I have always thought that when this topic comes up, one of the research topics where we need to get a better handle is indicators that grantmakers could use when they have competitors come and say this is what I am going to do because it's one thing to have research done after the fact—you know, what happened over those 10 years. The question is how do grantmakers pick the programs that are going to do really well over the next two or three years. And I think for that we just leave grantmakers, contract committees, and so on a little bit at sea.

MS. BANKS: Does anybody else want to add something? Thank you, one and all. Thank you for all of your good questions. And thank you to the Urban Institute for helping us figure out a little bit more about faith-based initiatives today.



Topics/Tags: | Nonprofits | Poverty, Assets and Safety Net

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