7.22.2006

Faith-Based, Inc.

Report: Church-State Lines Not Always Drawn With Faith-Based Groups

from Religious News Service

An examination of the White House's faith-based initiative has found that some organizations are not separating religious activities from federally funded services.

At the request of two members of Congress, the U.S. General Accountability Office spent more than a year conducting a review of federal and state agencies related to the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. The GAO also investigated religious groups that have received government grants.

The report, released Tuesday, said officials at 26 faith-based organizations that were visited by investigators said they understood that government funds could not pay for religious activities.

But reviewers found "four of the 13 FBOS (faith-based organizations) that offered voluntary religious activities - such as prayer and worship - did not appear to understand the requirement to separate these activities in time or location from their program services funded with federal funds."

One faith-based worker told investigators that she discusses religious matters while providing a service funded by the government if a participant asks and others don't object. In a few cases, staffers at faith-based groups said they prayed with program beneficiaries if they requested it.

Alyssa J. McClenning, a spokeswoman for the White House faith-based office, said efforts are made to prevent such situations. "The administration is engaged in continuous efforts to ensure that the regulations governing appropriate use of federal financial assistance are disseminated and understood by grantees," she said.

But the congressmen who sought the review said the results show management of the fund is in question.

"The Bush administration has failed to develop standards to verify that faith-based organizations aren't using federal funds to pay for inherently religious activity or to provide services on the basis of religion," said Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., who requested the report with Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.

George Washington University Law School professor Ira Lupu, said the overall report showed no widespread abuse of federal funds but pointed out the need for more monitoring on church-state matters.

"People don't understand that you couldn't do a prayer service in a government-funded program, that you had to do it separately," he said. "People somehow think in those groups so long as it's voluntary, it's OK. That's not the constitutional law."

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