Thursday, October 15, 2009
It is possible to exaggerate the need for faith-based organizations to discriminate in the provision of social services. Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services, and many Jewish welfare organizations have received very substantial federal funds for more than half a century and they have not discriminated on the basis of religion with regard to staff or clients. If you think about a soup kitchen, you can see why the mission can be accomplished without discrimination. To be sure, Catholic Charities and related organizations require that their national and local leaders be Catholic (or of the organization's faith), but I know of no serious opposition to funding for Catholic Charities or similar organizations.
The fighting issue is about evangelical groups who want to discriminate and use federal funds in order to proselytize (under federal law they can engage in religious hiring if they do not use federal funds). Here the real issue is not about discrimination, but about proselytizing. The question is whether federal funds should be used to help religious groups proselytize. President George W. Bush did not think so. Nor did John DiIulio (an inspirational Catholic Democrat who headed the first faith-based office). Al Gore, Hilary Clinton, and Barack Obama each have favored faith-based programs, but opposed federal money for proselytizing. On the one hand, this vindicates establishment clause values. On the other hand, it favors Catholic, Lutherans, and Jews over some religious groups.
Even this issue is not as significant on the ground as it might appear. Many evangelical groups refuse federal money on principle. Many do not require volunteers and most staff to meet faith requirements. And many believe that proselytizing is most effective after strong friendship connections have been formed.