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November/December 2001Vol. 2, No. 6Unlevel Playing Field: Service Barriers for Faith-Based and Community-Based Organizations

Faith-based and community organizations face barriers to delivering social services under the auspices of Federal programs—that was the overall finding of a recent White House report, Unlevel Playing Field: Barriers to Participation by Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Federal Social Service Programs.

The report summarizes the initial findings of analyses conducted by Centers for Faith-Based & Community Initiatives in the Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Education, Labor, and Justice. President Bush created the centers by executive order and charged them with conducting departmentwide audits to identify barriers to the participation of faith-based or community organizations in delivering social services through Federal programs.

The report notes that historically, the use of tax dollars by faith-based groups has been much debated and questioned on constitutional grounds. The report finds that the Federal grants system is inhospitable to faith-based and community organizations, making it difficult for these groups to gain support. Smaller groups, faith-based and secular, receive very little Federal support relative to the size and scope of the social services they provide. The report said that faith- and community-based organizations are at a disadvantage in competing for Federal social service grants for numerous reasons including the following:

  • A pervasive suspicion on the part of Federal officials that funding faith-based organizations is inherently unconstitutional
  • Agency reliance on outdated case law in setting agency policies
  • Burdensome regulations and requirements that small organizations find hard to comply with, unnecessarily restricting religious activities that fall within constitutionally acceptable boundaries
  • An environment that discourages faith-based organizations from applying for funds or encourages them to be "not too" religious
  • Not honoring rights that religious organizations have in Federal law
  • Imposing anti-competitive mandates on some programs, such as requiring applicants to demonstrate support from government agencies or others that might also be competing for the same funds.

The report says that Federal administrators have not sufficiently implemented the Federal law known as "Charitable Choice," which was intended by Congress to even the playing field for community and faith-based organizations competing for Federal grants. The report also states the need for a broad emphasis on demonstrating efficiency of the government-funded programs.

A complete copy of the report can be found on the White House website at: 2001/08/20010816-3-report.pdf