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COUPWATCH: OMB Watch on Faith-based initiatives

by Gary D. Bass, OMB Watch Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2001 at 9:44 AM
bassg@ombwatch.org (202) 234-8494 1742 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009

Under "charitable choice" there can be a merging of services and religious message even as federal funding is not used to pay for the non-secular message. The wall of separation is diminished. The irony is that one week ago President Bush, through executive memo, created an unusual wall of separation. He prohibited the use of government funds for international groups that use their own money to advocate for pro-choice or provide counseling on such issues. It seems political message may be more important that consistency.

Faith-based initiatives

OMB Watch Analysis

Jan. 29, 2001

President Bush issued two executive orders today to promote faith-based and other community based organizations. One Order creates, within 30 days, a new White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI); the other Order requires Justice, Education, Labor, HHS, and HUD to create new Centers for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives within 45 days. The second Order also requires all federal departments and agencies to appoint a liaison to the OFBCI.

The new agency Centers will coordinate efforts to "eliminate regulatory, contracting, and other programmatic obstacles to the participation of faith-based and other community organizations in the provision of social services." More specifically, each Center is to conduct an audit of barriers, incorporate faith-based and other community organizations "to the greatest extent possible," propose efforts to remove barriers, propose pilots and demonstration programs to increase participation in "Federal as well as State and local initiatives," and improve dissemination of information to faith-based and other community organizations. In addition, HHS and Labor are to study funding streams governed by "charitable choice" and promote compliance with such legislation.

The White House OFBCI will coordinate much of the activity in government regarding faith-based groups, including development and integration of administration policies. The OFBCI will deal with more than faith-based groups. It appears that the Office will also "strengthen the institutions of civil society and America's families and communities." Although heavily tilted to faith-based concerns, the OFBCI is also supposed to "showcase and herald innovative grassroots nonprofit organizations and civic initiatives."

The White House released a list of participants who attended the faith-based event today (see http://www.whitehouse.gov/press/releases/20010129.html). Most were ministries or conservative groups with a couple of notable exceptions. Despite the publicity generated by the White House event, many charities and religious groups are uncomfortable with the heavy emphasis on faith-based services. A new coalition is forming that is raising a host of issues about "charitable choice."

There is some irony in today's announcements. Under "charitable choice" there can be a merging of services and religious message even as federal funding is not used to pay for the non-secular message. The wall of separation is diminished. The irony is that one week ago President Bush, through executive memo, created an unusual wall of separation. He prohibited the use of government funds for international groups that use their own money to advocate for pro-choice or provide counseling on such issues.

It seems political message may be more important that consistency.

The two Executive Orders are at http://www.whitehouse.gov/press/releases/.

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