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Should faith-based charities get federal funding?

President Bush says yes, but critics — on the left and the right — have questions about its impact on both church and state

When President Bush came to office, federal rules excluded faith-based groups from competing for federal grants to provide services for addicts, the homeless, and others in need.

That's unfair, because in some neighborhoods with high concentrations of needy people, the only social services available are operated by churches or other faith-based organizations. That's why the President wants equal treatment for all groups. He doesn't care if an organization believes in God or not; he wants to know if its program works.

There are people in all government agencies who monitor federal grants to ensure that taxpayer money is used for its intended purpose. A faith-based organization that gets a federal grant may not preach with it, buy religious materials, discriminate in its services against people of a different faith or no faith at all, or force people to worship in order to receive those services. At the same time, President Bush wants to make sure that we aren't discriminating against faith-based social-service providers and requiring them to change their missions or who they are.

President Bush honors the separation of church and state, and he has made it clear that government money should not fund religion. As long as safeguards are in place to ensure that public money goes to public purposes and that no one preaches on Uncle Sam's dollar, we should welcome faith-based groups in the public square on the same basis as other groups. If they have effective programs, we should help fund them.

James Towey
Director, White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives


President Bush has made faith-based charities eligible to receive billions of dollars in federal grants to provide social services. But doing so risks mixing government and charity in ways that could undermine the very things that have made private charity so effective.

Government dollars come with strings attached and raise serious questions about the separation of church and state. Charities that accept government funds could find themselves overwhelmed with paperwork and subject to a host of federal regulations. The potential for government meddling is tremendous, and, even if regulatory authority is not abused, regulation will require a redirection of scarce resources to administrative functions. Officials of faith-based charities may end up spending more time reading the Federal Register than the Bible.

As they become increasingly dependent on government money, faith-based charities could find their missions shifting, their religious character lost, the very things that made them so successful destroyed. In the end, this change could transform private charities from institutions that change people's lives into little more than government programs in clerical collars.

Furthermore, the whole idea of charity could become corrupted; the difference between the welfare state and true charity could be blurred.

Charitable giving is at a record high; there is no need to risk deepening the involvement of government in religious charity. President Bush should leave charities to do what they do best.

Michael Tanner
Director, Health and Welfare Studies
The Cato Institute