Executive Order Regarding White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Strikes Right Balance; Leaves Unresolved Issues
Rabbi Saperstein: "The executive order is a vital step toward strengthening the constitutional foundation of the rules that must be followed by religious and community organizations providing vital social services with government support."
WASHINGTON, D.C., November 18, 2010 -- In response to President Obama's Executive Order concerning federally funded partnerships between the government and faith-based and neighborhood organizations, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and member of the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, released the following statement:
We welcome today's executive order pertaining to the work of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The order is a vital step toward strengthening the constitutional foundation of the rules that must be followed by religious and community organizations providing vital social services with government support.
Since the inception of the program under President Bush, we have made clear our belief that the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state is threatened when the work of government and religious institutions becomes entangled in the absence of clear guidelines. This entanglement poses a particular danger to houses of worship, which may feel pressure to dilute their religious calling to "speak truth to power" in favor of obtaining much needed financial support for the good works they do. But it equally poses dangers to the religious rights of beneficiaries. No participant in a program funded by taxpayer dollars should ever be forced to participate in religious activities in any kind as a condition of receiving government benefits to which they are entitled. Today's executive order greatly expands the rights of beneficiaries to receive benefits in a setting that does not violate their religious conscience, strengthens good government by enhancing the transparency of these grants and partnership programs and protects religious institutions by requiring separation of non-funded religious activities from government-funded secular social service programs (thereby minimizing government supervision, regulation, monitoring and auditing of religious institutions).
We know that this order leaves unresolved some issues put forward by the Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships as well as the key issue of banning religious hiring discrimination among organizations that require government funds, which must be addressed assertively and quickly. We look forward to continuing to work with the White House to address these issues and ensure that houses of worship maintain their unique character and mission while helping to meet the needs of Americans in communities nationwide.