Faith groups will be watching closely as a new Bush administration initiative makes its way through public debate. Two weeks ago President Bush issued an executive order allowing faith-based social service organizations to compete with secular groups for federal dollars. In Greater Cleveland much of the faith community welcomes the change, but there are some skeptics. 90.3's Bill Rice reports.
Bill Rice- The Mount Sinai Child Care and Enrichment Center on Cleveland's East Side is typical of many church-affiliated social service entities. It's operated by a non-profit corporation -- Mt. Sinai Ministries, established by Mt. Sinai Baptist Church. William Riley, development director for Mt. Sinai Ministries, says the church welcomes President Bush's proposal to allow more federal dollars to flow to faith based social service providers.
William Riley- The faith community has been providing a needed service in the community for a very long time. And this is an opportunity for us to provide additional services and be compensated or to allow a full time staff to be there to provide those separate services as opposed to a ministry or volunteer basis.
BR- But Mt. Sinai already receives federal dollars, and much of its day care staff is paid. The same is true for many other church-based social service providers: Since they are non-profit corporations, set up by, but separate from, the church, they are eligible for federal money. Riley says exactly how the Bush proposal would change the current system is unclear.
WR- The way I see it is it allows the possibility for, if it's open now, the rules can be changed later. So we just want to be in a position to take advantage of all programs that are available, to serve out of our belief system.
BR- Riley, along with many others with a possible stake in the proposal, is waiting for more details to emerge. In the meantime, debate over handing over government money to church-related social service entities continues. Supporters of the idea say faith groups are uniquely qualified to do the job. Carlton Moreland is coordinator of the Faith-Based Initiative for Cuyahoga County Work and Training, which administers welfare reform.
Carlton Moreland- Our participants in the county -- they really felt a good connection with the faith community , and it was easier for our clients to receive services in a setting that differed from a government bureaucracy.
BR- Faith and community organizations are less intimidating, Moreland says, and so people are more apt to fulfill the requirements of the welfare to work transition -- like showing up for appointments and job interviews. On a more general level, some faith-based advocates feel their institutions are simply best suited to the task of helping those in need.
August Napoli- We're delighted to hear that in Washington discussion is occurring to think out of the box in terms of delivering services.
BR- August Napoli is president of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland Foundation. He says the Diocese has been in the business of providing social services throughout its 150 year history. He views the church as the natural choice to fill that societal role, by virtue of its vast experience and long tradition of serving the disadvantaged. That experience pays off, Napoli says, through increased efficiency, which goes over well with the public.
AN- They demand to see economy and efficiency. They want to see that 82 or 83 cents on every dollar that they give is going to service and not to administration. So there's a discipline already instilled.
BR- But others see inherent problems in funneling government money to faith-based service providers. Amy Kaplan is President of Temple Temerith in Shaker Heights.
Amy Kaplan- I think it's very difficult to ensure that federal monies are directed toward social service programs in a faith-based organization, don't become part of that organization's ministry activities or proselytizing activities.
BR- And, of course, there's the American Civil Liberties Union, ever on the front lines of protecting the separation of church and state. Ray Vasvari is Legal Director at the ACLU of Ohio's Cleveland office. He commends the good work that churches do to help those in need, but says providing government funds to churches is dangerous for two reasons.
Ray Vasvari- First, because it does invite blurring the bright line between church and state, which really has benefited our republic, it's kept us a tolerant pluralistic society, and second, because this threatens to make religious organizations dependent on and beholden to the governmentt in order to carry out their mission. And it diminishes the freedom with which they might act in concert with their principles because they'll always be looking over their shoulder at the hand that will suddenly feed them.
BR- Asked about the increased efficiency touted by August Napoli, Vasvari says that may well be true.
RV- But I think we need to recognize that our constitutional system has some costs associated with it, and inefficiency is one of them.
BR- Vasvari says not enough is known about President Bush's initiative to predict precisely how it will affect faith-based social services. More details will be forthcoming he says, and from the ACLU's point of view, there is where the devil lies. Bill Rice, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.