From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Bush signs orders to give faith-based groups fair treatment
Mon, 16 Dec 2002 15:20:57 -0600
Dec. 16, 2002 News media contact: Joretta Purdue7(202)
By United Methodist News Service
U.S. President George W. Bush has signed executive orders that will give
faith-based initiatives and religious charities a fair advantage in receiving
government contracts for social services.
The president signed the orders to move some of the faith-based measures that
had originally failed to win Senate approval in one comprehensive bill
forward, but a representative of a United Methodist agency is still concerned
about separation of church and state issues.
"I'm announcing a series of actions to stop the unfair treatment of religious
charities by the federal government," Bush told a regional White House
conference on faith-based initiatives Dec. 12 in Philadelphia.
If a charity is helping the needy, it should not matter what religious
symbols are on the wall, remarked the president, who is a member of the
United Methodist Church. "The days of discriminating against religious groups
just because they are religious are coming to an end."
In a series of executive orders, the president directed federal agencies to
treat religious groups like any other not-for-profit organization. He assured
religious charities that they should be able to receive government contracts
for social service programs without being forced to change their character or
compromise their mission.
The president cited examples of past discrimination that his orders were
meant to prevent in the future. He spoke of a rescue mission in Iowa being
asked to return funds because its board of directors was not secular enough,
a homeless shelter in South Dakota being denied funding because it offered
voluntary prayers before meals and the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty
being discouraged from applying for federal funds because it had the word
Jewish in its name. "This discrimination shows a fundamental misunderstanding
of the law," Bush said.
The Rev. Eliezer Valentin-Castaqon, an executive with the United Methodist
Board of Church and Society, later voiced disappointment about the
president's use of an executive order on these issues.
"The United Methodist Church has stated in the past that it doesn't have a
problem being engaged in providing public services," he said. Most of the
mainline churches don't object to being in contracts with the state to offer
social services, he elaborated. Their objection is with the employment policy
contained in Bush's order concerning federal contracts larger than $10,000.
"When you combine that (provision of service) with discrimination in the
process of hiring and firing people paid with tax dollars, the church has
said that is not an acceptable way of using tax dollars because it does not
maintain the clear separation of church and state," he explained.
Valentin-Castaqon said he believes churches or other religious bodies have a
right to hire or not hire anyone with their own money, but the objection is
to having lifestyles or beliefs judged by sectarian criteria if the work is
funded by public money.
"I recognize that government has no business endorsing a religious creed, or
directly funding religious worship or religious teaching," the president said
to the regional conference where he announced the executive orders. Bush
explained that he was directing all federal agencies to follow the principle
of equal treatment in awarding social service contracts.
The executive actions differ from legislation that was being discussed in
that these orders do not include any tax relief for donors who do not itemize
nor any new grant or contract money for faith-based and community charities.
The president has done what he can do to address these issues now, said a
senior administration official. Existing laws protect the rights of religious
groups to hire people of their own faith in many kinds of service programs,
he added, including those associated with TANIF, the welfare to work funding
provided by legislation passed in 1996.
One executive order was addressed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency,
directing that religious nonprofit organizations be accorded the same grants
or loans following disasters like earthquakes and floods that comparable
secular groups receive.
Another order directed the Department of Agriculture and the Agency for
International Development to establish offices within their structures to
facilitate faith-based initiatives. Five other agencies already have such
The president declared, "When government discriminates against religious
groups, it is not the groups that suffer most. The loss comes to the hungry
who don't get fed, to the addicts who don't get help, to the children that
drift toward self-destruction." He pledged his administration "to support the
armies of compassion."
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United Methodist News Service
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