Arizona Daily Star, May 21, 2000

Churches Torn Over Feds Funding Service

By Stephanie Innes

Tucson congregations are torn over a little known provision of federal welfare reform enabling churches, synagogues and mosques to take on a role of Uncle Sam.

“Charitable choice” requires that states not discriminate against religious organizations when contracting with non-profit groups to deliver social services. It also stipulates that the religious groups not proselytize while doing such work.

The law has not been well received by critics like the Arizona Civil Liberties Union and the leaders of several local con­gregations, who argue that allowing faith-based groups to deliver tax-funded social welfare services entangles church and state.

“We don’t get involved with the government at all, for the very simple reason that if you get involved, they have strings attached,” said Gary Shrader, executive pastor at Casas Adobes Baptist Church, 2131 W. Ina Road.

But the critics might see more congregations take on what was once a government role.

“When you make monies available to religious organizations you get it done cheaper,” said Fred Allison, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Tucson, noting that churches are weil connected to community volunteers who can help with the programs.

Both Al Gore and George W. Bush have endorsed charitable choice and made it a part of their presidential campaigns. In a recent speech, Gore suggested an expanded program in which faith-based organizations would use federal funds to provide drug treatment and youth violence prevention.

The Legislature passed a local version of charitable choice that took effect in August

And a recent study by Associate Professor Mark Chaves of the University of Arizona suggests that if more congregations knew they could directly administer government programs such as child care, job training and health care. more than one-third would apply to do so.

Currently only 3 percent of congregations receive any government funds for social service activity, according to Chaves, who teaches so­ciology at the UA. His study, “Religious Congregations and Welfare Reform: Who Will Take Advantage of Charitable Choice?” was published in December’s American Sociological Review.

Chaves researched a national sample of 1,236 congregations..

He found that liberal and moderate Protestant and Catholic congregations would be more likely than conservatives and evangelicals to pursue charitable choice opportunities, and that African-American congregations are particularly

likely to move in this direction.

“There is still a relatively low level of knowledge, and churches are primarily not social service agencies, so they are not accustomed to writing grant proposals.’ Chaves said. “The way it will happen is if government agencies are aggressive in getting them to apply, such as states setting up task forces and getting clergy out to meetings.”

In addition to the AC LU, opponents include the Anti-Defamation League of B’Nai Bnith and the National Organization for Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund.

They argue that moving government social welfare into the non­secular world could, among other things, harm religion’s historic independence of government and put religious organizations at the mercy of government oversight.

“As a church. we just wouldn't be willing to compromise our beliefs and values,” said Casas

Adobes Baptist’s Schrader. “1 don’t know of any evangelical church that takes government money.”

Eleanor Eisenbeng, executive director of the Arizona Civil Liberties Union, said the charitable choice law enables the state to con­tract with faith-based institutions that discriminate in their hiring practices. The 1964 Civil Rights Act allows religious organizations such as schools and churches an exemption to discriminate based on religious preference, she said.

Critics like the ACLU also worry about the idea of a social service provider that conceivably could display a King James Bible or other religious teachings, and use the government funds to advance sectarian projects.

Eisenbeng said it is not reasonable that someone getting food stamps could be in a setting filled with religious icons that might be offensive to that person.

‘The burden is on the recipient of the services to say this is inappropriate, and that doesn’t seem reasonable.” she said.

Bruce Liggett, assistant director for policy and program development at the Arizona Department of Economic Security, said charitable choice merely clarified religious organizations’ eligibility to apply for grants. Government, he noted. has been contracting with faith-based organizations for years.

In Tucson, the 68-year-old Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona Inc. has for years delivered government-funded services, to recipients including St. Elizabeth of Hungary indigent health care clinic. Catholic Social Services and Pio Decimo, which provides low-cost child care and after-school programs.

Catholic Community Services recently won a direct contract with the federal Department of Labor to operate a welfare-to-work program.

Lutheran Social Ministries has long held contracts with the state of Arizona for community programs, said Daniel A. Hodgson, pastor of Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church.

7570 N. Thornydale Road. Hodgson also said his congregation would consider applying for a government contract.

Liggett, the state DES official, said. “It’s been going on for years and years. and I’m not aware of any controversy.

“It’s clear were not paying for worship or religious instruction. What we’re talking about is the so­cial service arms of various religious communities.

Yet those separate social service arms of governing religious bodies are secular in function and specify a non-religious mission, said the ACLU’s Eisenberg. It’s the possibility of the religious bodies them­selves using taxpayer money that concerns the ACLU.

The Anti-Defamation League is more stringent. That group says no government money should go to any group affiliated with religion
— even to Catholic Community Services.

“The reason we oppose it is that it’s a violation of the First Amend­ment. It’s the camel putting his nose under the tent. We think gov­ernment ought to keep its nose out of funding and promoting religious organizations.” said Marc Lieber­man, chairman of the Anti-Defama­tion League in Arizona.

Stuart Taylor, co-pastor at St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church. 3809 E. Third St.. said he is opposed to taking government contracts, but not because of political concerns about church-state separation.

Government has abdicated its responsibility for the poorest people, and shouldn’t pretend churches can fill that vacuum. Taylor said.

But Liggett. who is not aware of any Arizona congregations that have direct government welfare contracts, said religious bodies can attract volunteers and thus provide lower-cost services.

“We’ve learned that government doesn’t have all the answers.”


Faith reporter Stephanie Innes can be reached at 573-4134 or by e-mail to.-