"In many instances, the faith-based services are working, and they are cheaper than their government counterparts," asserts Abigail L. Kuzma, a former Senate Republican aide who now directs the Indianapolis-based Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic. Stephen Goldsmith, who as mayor of Indianapolis pioneered partnerships with religious groups, insists that "church-based groups are infinitely better-suited than government to help vulnerable individuals." Goldsmith, who has been tapped by President Bush to oversee the AmeriCorps national service program, says "government is typically unable to discriminate between the truly needy and those simply seeking a handout."
Nonetheless, John J. DiIulio Jr., the outspoken University of Pennsylvania professor who heads Bush's faith-based initiatives office, finds himself enveloped in controversy. From both the left and the right, concerns have been raised about possible breaches in the traditional wall between church and state. Will religious missions be diluted by intrusive federal regulation, or will public funds for secular services be diverted to sectarian purposes? Will some faiths be rewarded with increased public money at the expense of others? What will happen to eligible recipients whose religious beliefs differ from those of the organization chosen to dispense benefits?
DiIulio says it will be government's challenge to determine which programs deliver the most bang for the buck, even if that means devising new yardsticks to measure such success rates as how long clients of a faith-based rehabilitation program stay off drugs. "It's got to be about facts, not faith; performance, not politics; and results, not religion," he has said repeatedly during a series of meetings with leaders representing various religious sects and charities. DiIulio, who has been no stranger to criticism during his career, insists the initiative must "respect civic pluralism [even] if that means that no one individual or set of individuals is going to be entirely happy."
Kuzma, former counsel to Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, and legislative assistant to Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., agrees that evaluation is key. "I think it would be a mistake to be more lenient for faith-based programs than others," she says. "Whatever the program is, it should be able to demonstrate that it is effective." But she adds that government evaluators should concern themselves only with the quality of the legal services provided by her agency (which receives state funds) and should not conclude that "somehow it is wrong for a program to have Christian content."
Kuzma says she sometimes prays with her clients and conducts educational outreach programs at a "Christian cafe, where the proprietress has Bibles sitting there" for those who wish to use them. But Kuzma insists that participation in prayer is voluntary and points out that other sources of low-income legal assistance are available in Indianapolis. "It is not a case of ramming something down anybody's throat," she says, adding that program evaluators should not "come in and say we want you to take all the crosses off the wall, or not speak about Christ at all or play Christian music."
Many major religiously affiliated organizations long have been recipients of federal funds, operating under rules that satisfy court interpretations of the First Amendment's prohibition against "establishment of religion" by the state. Diana Aviv, director of the Washington office of United Jewish Communities, describes her organization as "a faith-based institution providing nonsectarian services." As such, she adds, it provides "from-cradle-to-grave social services that receive federal funding." The Rev. Fred Kammer, president of Catholic Charities USA, observes that his agency has worked for more than a century in "active concert with local, state and federal governments, which contract with us for specific services to people of all faiths and none."
But J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee, warns that the "charitable choice" provisions of the 1996 welfare reform law and other recent statutes open the door to direct public funding of churches and the subsequent auditing of church books by government program evaluators. He argues that public funds should be channeled only through separate affiliate organizations in order to maintain "a firewall against government regulation of and entanglement with" religion.
Figuring out how to enforce accountability, while maintaining that "firewall," is the big challenge facing DiIulio as the White House's propagator of faith-based initiatives.
Dick Kirschten is a contributing editor for National Journal. Contact him at email@example.com.