New Report Finds Common Ground On Community Help For Those In Need

Document Outlines Ways To Provide Assistance Without Violating The Constitution, Says AU's Lynn

Americans United for Separation of Church and State announced today that it supports a consensus report designed to outline appropriate ways to provide assistance to those in need through faith-based and other community organizations.

The report, "Finding Common Ground," gives 29 recommendations for meeting human needs. The 54-page document is the result of a months-long discussion by more than 30 representatives of groups that have been involved in the debate over funding "faith-based" social services.

"I am pleased at the number of actions we agreed can be taken in this area without raising constitutional issues," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "I hope this is the direction Congress and the president take to move beyond the divisiveness of the debate in the House last summer."

(In July, a deeply divided House approved H.R. 7, a package of measures designed to subsidize "faith-based" social services. The bill was controversial because it granted government support to religion, allowed publicly funded employment discrimination and paved the way for voucherization of social services.)

Lynn, an attorney and United Church of Christ minister, was an active participant in the Working Group on Human Needs and Faith-Based Community Initiatives, the organization that sponsored the effort to find common ground. The Working Group's members ranged from representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Jewish Committee and People for the American Way to the Southern Baptist Convention, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Evangelicals for Social Action.

The report says efforts to help the needy "can and must be carried out in ways that are effective and that strengthen our democracy while upholding our commitment to religious liberty as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."

Lynn said that although Americans United remains adamantly opposed to government funding of religion, he was pleased to see the report outline other types of approaches that help people in need.

Among the recommendations are a major increase in private giving to charities, changes in the tax code to encourage individual and corporate donations and streamlining the federal process to encourage formation of charities.

In addition to recommendations for action, the report also includes analysis and clarification of some of the issues surrounding the "faith-based initiative."

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.