Head Start centers shouldn't be forced to remove religious signs from walls, the report says, and housing regulations shouldn't bar organizations dubbed ``primarily religious'' from participating in community development programs. The report, mandated by an executive order signed by President Bush during his second week of office, includes data from five agencies--Health and Human Services, Education, Labor, Justice and Housing and Urban Development. Each one searched for institutional barriers that prevent religious groups from taking part in government programs.
The final report, titled ``Unlevel Playing Field,'' argues that federal agencies have the power under current law to open their doors wider to religious organizations yet often act as if they don't, taking constitutional concerns about the separation of church and state too far.
``It is not Congress, but these overly restrictive agency rules that are repressive, restrictive and which actively undermine the established civil rights of these groups,'' the report concludes. ``Such excessive restrictions unnecessarily and improperly limit the participation of faith-based organizations that have profound contributions to make in civil society's efforts to serve the needy.''
The broader question--whether religious groups should be allowed to offer more programs with government money--has been the subject of a six-month debate in Congress.
Legislation approved by the House would make it clear that such groups may compete for grants without putting aside their own religious character. In part, Thursday's White House report serves as an explanation for why that legislation is needed, although it argues that agencies should really act on their own to change things.
Where participation is not banned outright, the report says, religious organizations often face an ``unwelcoming environment.''
The report also concludes: