Category: Effective Compassion

Howard Friedman, at his ever-noteworthy Religion Clause blog, reports on the brewing battle over charitable choice language in the US Senate. The Coalition Against Religious Discrimination (CARD), which includes Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is pushing for language in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Act of 2000 to be removed that allows for faith-based charities receiving government funds to limit their hiring practices along confessional/denominational borders.

This is just the latest in the long affair to determine in what ways the federal government can subsidize private explicitly faith-based charitable work. The Washington Times reports, “Under the Civil Rights Act, religious groups are allowed to only hire people of their particular faith. The battle erupts over what should happen when these groups accept federal dollars.”

A correlative question is not only whether faith-based initiatives receiving federal funding ought to be staffed by like-minded religious folks, but to what extent that program can then implement explicitly religious content.

It’s no surprise that the substance abuse legislation is the first target of the CARD alliance push to remove hiring limits. Original research published by the Acton Institute, growing out of our work with the Samaritan Guide, found that “a program’s faith element relates to the people they serve and the type of help they provide, as programs with more explicit and mandatory faith-related elements are likely to be substance-abuse programs.”

Thus, it makes sense that CARD would first target the areas most likely to have explicit faith-based elements in their quest to secularize charitable choice.

Friedman writes, “Some say that removing the language from SAMHSA would be a first step toward eliminating similar provisions from various other federal programs as well.” With the most difficult hurdle out of the way, the path would be laid wide open for similar provisions to be excised from legislation affecting other areas of charitable work.

If there’s anything that the church should really be striving for, it’s approval from secular groups: “An official with the One Campaign, the global anti-poverty program backed by rock star Bono, said that his organization strongly supports the Christian Reformed Church’s Sea to Sea 2008 Bike Tour.”

I guess who tells you “Well done, good and faithful servant!” is illustrative of who is your master.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, February 11, 2008
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It’s the beginning of tax season. Since I’m still in school, I typically have to get my returns done early so that I can include them as part of financial aid applications. This year I used H&R Block’s TaxCut software so that I could get the returns done quickly and smoothly.

One of the options that the software gives you when you are done is the option to compare your return with the national average for your income bracket. Here are some interesting results of that comparison, drawn from the 2005 tax data (the latest for which they had numbers):

Average salary/wages for my bracket: $65,453
Charitable contributions: $2,835

That means that in that income bracket the average deduction for charitable donations was 4.35%.

For 2005, individual private giving to charitable causes reached almost $200 billion (PDF), and made up the vast majority of the total $260 billion in giving reported to the IRS. “Religion” has historically been the single highest sector for allocation, topping $93 billion in 2005.

Also in 2005, Barna reported some findings on charitable giving trends, noting that the average for American household giving was 3% and that 9% “born again” Christian adults tithed in 2004.

An update on the battle between Archbishop Chaput and the Colorado legislature over an ostensibly anti-discrimination bill that in fact infringes on religious liberty. (Acton’s Joseph Kosten ably defined the argument in this week’s commentary; I initially raised it here.)

Zenit reports on the back and forth between Chaput and the Anti-Defamation League’s Bruce DeBoskey, with Catholic Charities president Christopher Rose wading into the fray. Here’s Rose on the idea that laws forbidding government to discriminate on religious grounds apply to non-governmental entities:

Jewish Family Services doesn’t become a division of the U.S. Department of Human Services because it counsels low-income persons while receiving Medicaid dollars. […] If they do, then every private citizen becomes a government actor upon reaching age 65 and receiving Social Security benefits. And every taxpayer becomes a federal agency when he or she receives a tax rebate this spring. Receiving partial — and sometimes inadequate — compensation from the state to perform a public service does not transform a private agency into the government.

OK, I’m biased, but it sure looks to me like the Catholic side is winning this debate pretty handily. (“Catholic side” is tongue-in-cheek. I agree strongly with the contention that this bill threatens freedom of religious expression across the board.)

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, January 24, 2008
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Add Colorado to the list of state governments sharpening the points of the already thorny problem of church and state. Catholic News Agency reports on a kerfuffle between Archbishop Charles Chaput (on behalf of Catholic Charities of Colorado) and the state’s legislature over a pending bill that would restrict religious organizations’ ability to discriminate on the basis of religion in their hiring. (The regulation applies, of course, to groups that take government funds.) In other words, a non-profit such as Catholic Charities would not be permitted to make adherence to the Catholic faith a qualification necessary to be a manager, even a director, in the organization. Obviously this is a cause for concern for an institution claiming to have a distinctly Catholic identity.

There are at least a couple interesting angles to this story. First, this is yet another example of the spread of a terrible misunderstanding of the meaning of church-state separation in the American context. Place blame where you like: I choose the 1947 Supreme Court decision Everson v. Board of Education, which burdened the legal system with the unfortunate phrase “high wall of separation.” Creative and mendacious judges notwithstanding, the First Amendment does not prohibit any and every relationship between churches and governments, especially state governments, and including funding that has as its purpose social programs rather than church functions (as in the case of Catholic Charities). We went through this whole thing when the current president proposed his faith-based initiative, but evidently not everybody attained clarity on the issue.

Second—also a throwback to the faith-based initiative debate—there is the related but distinct question of whether it is wise, helpful, and ultimately beneficial to all parties to have state funds funneled through religious organizations such as Catholic Charities. The question has been raised with specific reference to Catholic Charities USA by, among others, Acton’s Fr. Sirico, going back at least to the mid-1990s. More recently, the issue has been forced by, for example, California’s 2004 attack on Catholic Charities over the provision of birth control in employees’ health insurance, Massachusetts’ mandate on adoption by gay couples, and now this. To their credit, the pertinent Catholic authorities have usually refused to compromise in these cases.

To be clear, I think the Colorado legislature is mistaken and this and other similar assaults on the prerogatives of Catholic (or any other religious) institutions are unjust and unconstitutional. Yet it may be time once again to make the proposal, which would solve the problem and which will doubtless be categorically rejected by Catholic leaders and government officials alike: pull back the reach of the state’s provision of social assistance and let private donations fund Catholic Charities and all such charitable groups.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
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In this week’s Acton Commentary I examine “The Truth about Tithing.”

“Whatever benefits we claim to receive from tithing, whether spiritual, emotional, or financial, these are not to be the reason that we give. We give out of obedience to God’s word,” I write.

Here’s a link to a Marketplace Money report from last Friday that was the proximate occasion for the piece, “Tithing can be a good investment.” It’s a pretty disgustingly caricatured picture of tithing we get from the Marketplace report.

One more bit of evidence that the press just doesn’t “get” religion.

Blog author: rnothstine
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
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Thanks to Rob Chaney at the Missoulian, the touching story of young Caden Stufflebeam is told. Chaney wrote a piece titled, “Rocks to riches: Missoula boy sells stones he finds to buy food for needy.”

Appropriately noted as the top story for the paper in Missoula, Mont., Caden has been collecting and selling rocks and donating the proceeds to the less fortunate. The young boy is filled with an abundance of generosity and spiritual knowledge. Christ declared in Matthew, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Caden noted:

I think I might keep on selling rocks, Then I can buy more bags for the hungry to eat other dinners. I think God has a purpose for me to sell rocks.