'Faith-based' Services Not Always Better, Says New Study

Despite the rhetoric from the Bush administration, "faith-based" social services are not always more effective than secular ones, a new study indicates.

Researchers at Indiana University compared government-funded job-training and placement programs with faith-based ones in three states. Preliminary findings indicate that faith-based providers placed welfare recipients in jobs at similar rates with government-operated programs, but the jobs were not as good.

The study found that while salaries were about the same, faith-based programs tended to provide welfare recipients with jobs offering fewer hours and fewer health insurance benefits.

The researchers studied job-placement programs in Indiana, Massachu­setts and North Carolina. Aside from assessing the effectiveness of the programs, they also attempted to gauge participants' knowledge about the constitutional issues inherent in government funding of social service ministries.

Many faith-based providers, the study found, are not aware that tax funds cannot be spent to promote religion. A survey taken in one Indiana city found that 67 percent of the religious providers did not know that tax money cannot be used to buy things like Bibles or fund Bible studies.

"If we see consistent results across the board, it would appear that more education needs to take place to lessen the possibility of constitutional violations," said Sheila Suess Kennedy, principal researcher and a professor of law and public policy at Indiana University.

"One part of our study is an analysis of whether religious organizations are providing better, lower-cost services," said Kennedy. "If final results are consistent with our preliminary findings, it would appear that some long-held assumptions about the cost-effectiveness of efforts to recruit these organizations are not correct."

The report, "Charitable Choice: First Results from Three States," was done under the auspices of the Charitable Choice Research Project, a three-year study funded by the Ford Foundation and directed by Indiana University's Center for Urban Policy and the Environment.

To read the full report, visit the Center's website at ccr.urbancenter.iupui.edu.

In other news about faith-based services:

 A Religious Right activist who operated a home for troubled girls and women in Florida has been charged with sexually molesting a 15-year-old girl.

John Burt, 65, was arrested by the Florida Highway Patrol June 10 at a rest stop on Interstate 10 in eastern Florida. Burt, who runs Our Father's House in Pensacola, is charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, lewd or lascivious conduct and three counts of molestation. He allegedly molested a resident at the home, and police believe there may be other victims.

At the time of his arrest, Burt was considered a fugitive. Police issued a bulletin advising officers to be on the lookout for Burt's dark green 1996 Chevrolet van with a "Choose Life" license plate.

In 1986, Burt was arrested for forcing his way into a Pensacola abortion clinic and damaging equipment. He was convicted and sentenced to probation. The Associated Press reported that Michael Griffin, an anti-abortion terrorist who shot and killed doctor David Gunn, volunteered at Our Father's House and that Burt prayed with him just days before the shooting.

 Florida officials are investigating a religious home for troubled boys near Oviedo in the wake of allegations of lax oversight there.

A 13-year-old boy was removed from the home after he suffered a broken shoulder and numerous bites from fire ants in early June. A few days later, four other boys were removed from the home, run by Teen Transformation Ministries.

The boy with the broken shoulder told his mother he received the injury while wrestling with other residents but that he was denied medical treatment. He also said another resident had pushed him into a septic tank and that he was forced to take off his pants and sit on a fire ant mound. Officials at the home deny that oversight was loose and say they did not know the boy's shoulder was broken.

As a religious institution, the home is exempt from state licensing by the Department of Children and Families. The facility has been closed pending the investigation.