Wednesday, April 25, 2001

Debate continues about faith-based programs

Religious leaders among the dubious

By Derrick DePledge
Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — When people come to the Exodus Program in Walnut Hills for help preparing for a job, they know they're talking with Christians, but they don't have to pray or sit for Bible study.

        Charles Clingman, who works with the nonprofit ministry that oversees the job-training program, said the staff made a choice.

        “We faced great debate even amongst the volunteers who began working with Exodus, and who, when they were challenged to live the life rather than preach it, were very frustrated and worried that we had sold out,” said Mr. Clingman, executive director of the Jireh Development Corp. The ministry is an affiliate of Christ Emmanuel Christian Fellowship Church.

        Under the 1996 welfare-reform bill and other legislation, faith-based groups are able to accept federal money to operate welfare, substance abuse, mental-health and economic-development programs. President Bush has created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to extend the concept to other government programs.

        While the Exodus Program receives grants from local and state government, its experience is similar to the choices that churches and faith-based groups face across the country. Early reviews about the progress of the initiative have found states slow to implement the idea and many faith-based groups have been reluctant to apply.

        Religious leaders from an array of faiths released a letter Tuesday asking Mr. Bush and Congress not to expand what has come to be known as charitable choice.

        The letter, endorsed by more than 850 religious leaders, said such an expansion would “entangle religion and government in an unprecedented and perilous way. The flow of government dollars and the accountability for how those funds are used will inevitably undermine the independence and integrity of houses of worship.”

        Other religious leaders have complained that some faiths, such as the Nation of Islam, the Church of Scientology and the Unification Church, should not be eligible for federal money. Competition, some fear, could lead to sectarian tension.

        Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, which had a hearing Tuesday on charitable choice, said the law prevents government discrimination against faith-based groups that want to help the poor.

        “Charitable choice simply means equal access,” Mr. Chabot said.

        The Center for Public Justice, an Annapolis, Md., based Christian policy research group, found in a report in September that 12 states — including Ohio — had taken steps to include faith-based groups in procurement practices. In a separate study, the Hudson Institute, an Indianapolis-based conservative public-policy research group, estimated that 15 states had entered into $68 million worth of contracts with faith-based groups.

        The Exodus Program has received about $3 million in public money in the past four years to help people get ready for jobs and leave public assistance. Mr. Clingman said it has served more than 2,350 people, about 500 in its job readiness program and the rest in lifestyle management.

        If people want to pray, Mr. Clingman said, they are encouraged, but Exodus does not measure its success by its converts.

        “We believe that we are called to plant seeds of truth, hope and character,” he said.


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