"While we continue to differ about what is constitutional andadvisable on some points, all of us believe that religious organizationsand the government can work together in productive ways to bring aboutthe greater good of society," says the joint statement, "In Good Faith:A Dialogue on Government Funding of Faith-Based Social Services."
The document, the result of three years of private meetings and thesupport of The Pew Charitable Trusts, was praised by John DiIulio,director of the new White House Office of Faith-based and CommunityInitiatives.
DiIulio sat in the audience during the presentation of thestatement during a news conference at the National Press Club but spoke onlybriefly, calling the statement the "single most significant thing" thathas happened in relation to the office since President Bush signed theexecutive order creating it on Jan. 29.
The White House hopes to broaden "charitable choice," a provision of1996 welfare reform legislation permitting government funding ofreligious organizations that provide social services.
The 16-page document cites a dozen areas of agreement, ranging fromthe need for secular alternatives for those who don't want faith-basedservices to the requirement that service recipients are notdiscriminated against on the basis of their religion. The parties alsoagreed that separate organizations that are affiliated with a house ofworship but provide secular functions should continue to be qualified toreceive government aid.
The statement affirms that organizations should not receivegovernment money for religious activities but notes how difficult it isto define such activities. For example, a service recipient should notbe urged to accept Jesus but could be advised to be honest, even thoughthat is often considered a religious value. It also says worship,prayers and Scripture would be inappropriate in a government-fundedprogram but a "neutral moment of silence" would not be consideredworship.
The drafters also recommend that religious organizations usereligious criteria to hire people for privately funded programsregardless of whether they receive government funds for other programs.They agree that religious providers receiving federal money should beallowed to display some religious art and should be able to retainreligious references in their names.
The drafters also agreed that it is advisable, though not required,for congregations to create separately incorporated organizations tolimit governmental scrutiny to the specific social services that arefunded.
The document also notes the conflicting views about charitablechoice.
Those in favor of the 5-year-old law providing for governmentfunding of faith-based groups say it is constitutional and provides "theend of the presumption that government should endorse only secularprescriptions for poverty and need." They say it helps provide neededsocial services and protects the religious liberties of recipients ofthose services.
Those opposed believe it violates the Constitution by reducinggovernment neutrality toward religion and potentially makes socialservice recipients "a captive audience for proselytizing and otherreligious activities." Opponents also believe charitable choice"heightens religious divisions" by creating competition for grantsbetween different religious groups.
Groups signing the statement include the American Jewish Committee,Baptist Joint Committee, Call to Renewal, Catholic Charities USA,National Association of Evangelicals, Sikh Media Watch and Resource TaskForce, U.S. Catholic Conference and Soka Gakkai International-USA, aBuddhist association.
The American Jewish Congress issued a statement declining to endorsethe joint statement, saying it "lend(s) legitimacy to a program whoselegitimacy is very much in doubt."
Murray Friedman, director of the Philadelphia chapter of theAmerican Jewish Committee, defended the document, saying it doesn'tsupport one side of the issue or the other.
"This (criticism) is not a serious look at the issues we're facingtoday," he said of the criticism. "The document itself is ... a veryserious and thoughtful attempt to grapple with these issues."