Report Says ‘Faith-Based’ Approach Spreading Through U.S. Government

Congress’ reluctance to pass President George W. Bush’s “faith-based” initiative has not stopped the policy shift, and government support for religiously run social services continues to spread, a new report indicates.

Americans United says the new study, issued Aug. 17 by the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy, raises troubling questions about the Bush administration’s disregard for constitutional and civil rights protections.

The report lists the many executive actions Bush has taken to fund a wide range of religion-based social services. The sweeping alterations in federal policy, the report indicates, have come without congressional authorization and amount to a sea change in the way the federal government approaches social-service funding.

The report by the Roundtable, which is a project of the Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany, N.Y., reveals that religious groups “are now involved in government-encouraged activities ranging from building strip malls for economic improvement to promoting child car seats.”

Bush unveiled the faith-based initiative soon after taking office, but it stalled in Congress due to constitutional and civil rights concerns. To circumvent Congress, Bush issued a series of executive orders to implement administratively as much of the proposal as possible.

Under Bush, the report notes, 10 federal agencies have finalized 15 new regulations to implement the faith-based initiative.

Despite Congress’ reticence, the effort has moved forward. The Round­table report studies the numerous federal agencies that are now offering public dollars to churches and other religion-based social service providers and finds that new regulations created under the faith-based initiative “mark a major shift in the constitutional separation of church and state.”

In particular, the research notes that the regulatory changes “encompass two reversals of longstanding policy on Constitu­tional interpretation. The federal government now allows faith-based groups receiving federal funds to consider religion when employing staff, and to build and renovate structures used for both social services and religious worship.”

The report notes that in May the administration issued an “incomplete yet revealing tally of grants” to faith-based and community organizations at a number of federal agencies. The administration’s figures, the report says, “indicate a significant increase in the availability of federal funding to faith-based social service providers.”

Richard P. Nathan, director of the Rockefeller Institute of Government, a group that oversees the Roundtable’s research, said in a press release that Bush’s use of executive orders has been extremely aggressive.

“There are famous past examples of presidents who used their executive powers to cut through bureaucracy and advance a particular policy,” said Nathan. “Few, if any, presidents in recent history have reached as deeply into or as broadly across the government to implement a presidential initiative administratively.”

Americans United, which has spearheaded opposition to the faith-based initiative, said the report is a useful, but alarming, overview of the administration’s actions on this issue.

“The report shows an administration obsessed with seeking faith-based solutions for almost everything,” said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Amer­icans United. “I am deeply troubled that vital constitutional and civil rights protections are being shoved aside as the faith-based crusade advances.”

To see the full report, visit the Roundtable’s website at www.religionandsocialpolicy.org/.