Faith-Based Fixes

Editorial

Published April 07, 2010, issue of April 16, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

After much deliberation, an advisory council has presented the White House with a blueprint for reforming the Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships, to ensure that the bright line separating the public’s money from support for private religious behavior is visible and honored. The recommendations suggest welcome improvements to a federal operation that too often has been fuzzy on serious constitutional issues. But this good work doesn’t go far enough.

Among the recommendations, the council called for the government to amend its rules to clarify that federal funds cannot be used to pay for explicitly religious activities. That ought to be obvious. But it’s not, and the council — drawn from members of many faiths — was wise to stipulate that social service providers not use direct government aid to pay for religious instruction, for example, or disseminating sacred texts.

The faith-based initiative’s aim is not to prop up religion, but to support those religious institutions that help the poor and needy, especially in communities long abandoned by everyone else.

The council acknowledged it fell short of consensus on two stronger measures: one to require religious grantees to set up separate tax-exempt bodies to administer publicly funded work, another to prevent them from conducting activities in rooms with overt religious symbols. Both seem like reasonable guarantees that public money would be protected, and it’s disappointing a consensus couldn’t be reached.

But a larger issue wasn’t even up for discussion. From the outset, the Obama administration instructed the council not to consider whether religious institutions receiving public funds can be required not to discriminate in hiring. The 1964 Civil Rights Act permits such an institution to hire according to faith, to protect freedom of religion. Once public funding for child-care services or drug rehabilitation is in play, however, the church or synagogue should no longer be allowed to discriminate in hiring staff for such programs.

This isn’t a theoretical issue. A prominent refugee resettlement organization that reportedly receives up to 70% of its funds from government sources has just enacted a policy requiring new employees to be Christian. It’s legal. But is it right? And can the faith-based initiative continue to blur constitutional lines and earn our support?


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.