Leading Proponent of Faith-Based Intiatives Urges Against Exclusion of Religion

WASHINGTON D.C. — The relationship between religious social service groups and the government, which funds faith-based initiatives, is unstable because the current policy of “neutrality” requires officials to ignore religion when selecting providers, said one of the leading Christian proponents for faith-based initiatives yesterday.

Moving past the current restrictions by adopting “beneficiary choice,” the government would allow religious organizations to maintain their religious character when competing with other groups to provide social services that the government contracts, said Dr. Stanley Carlson-Thies of the Center for Public Justice (CPJ) in a lecture that took place on Capitol Hill Thursday.

“We have a serious problem when it comes to religion in government-funded social services,” stated Carlson-Thies.

The CPJ Social Policy Studies director said the problem wasn’t too much religion in those services, but rather that “religion continues to be excluded from almost all government-funded services.”

Increasingly, faith-based providers, people seeking help, citizens, officials, and some scholars are saying that religion is “not irrelevant” to social assistance but that instead, it’s the faith content of the service provided that makes them effective, Carlson-Thies added.

Thursday’s “2005 Kuyper Lecture,” named after 19th century Christian Dutch scholar and statesman Abraham Kuyper, was hosted by the Center for Public Justice, a Christian public policy, non-partisan think-tank based in Washington, D.C. The title of the lecture, which drew over 150 attendants, was “Keeping Faith in the Faith-Based Initiative: From Formal Neutrality to Full Pluralism in Government Partnerships with Faith-Based Social Services.”

In addition to Carlson-Thies, who was featured as the main speaker, were other invited speakers including Dr. William Galston, a professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, who offered a response to Carlson-Thies’ lecture.

Galston cautioned that there were dissenting opinions on the issue of including religion in government-funded programs, arguing that it could be wiser err on the side of “under-inclusiveness” in order to avoid the controversy that would be generated by “over-inclusiveness” of religion in government activities. Galston also cautioned that an over-dependency on government funding by faith groups could be detrimental to their future survival.

After the speeches, other speakers joined the conversation, including Melanie L. Looney, who works as Legislative Counsel to Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA.). As someone who works on faith-based initiative policies, Looney said in her remarks that aside from the theoretical concerns presented by the two previous speakers, she was there to speak about the more pragmatic concerns involving faith-based initiatives. She said that social service recipients should not be coerced into accepting the faith message of the religious groups but added that they shouldn’t have to change who they were.

“They should be the organizations that they are, instead of being the organizations that they aren’t,” she said.