Faith-Based Initiatives in the Land of Religious Liberty

American taxpayer money used to help religious non-profit organizations.

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Since 2004 the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty’s Growth Fund has received more than $3 million to train New York City non-profit organizations in developing their boards of directors, reinstating financial systems, and building websites. That $3 million, which funds a Jewish organization promoting Jewish values, comes from a startling place: United States taxpayers.

The Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty was one beneficiary of President Bush’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. In 2010, the council’s current grant cycle will end, but leaders in the organization are hopeful that funding will continue under President Obama’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Balancing Religion and Government

Any government entity with the word “faith” may seem at odds with one of the United States’ most central tenets: the separation of church and state. But some Jewish groups are hopeful that President Obama, who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School, will find a balance in harnessing the power of religious groups while upholding the country’s fundamental ideology.

Church and State

Obama’s newly established Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is intended to be a resource for both secular and faith-based organizations, helping them make a bigger impact on their communities. The goal is that the office will help organizations to learn their legal obligations, cut through bureaucracy, and maximize federal government money and resources.

History of Faith-Based Initiatives

The concept of government-funded religious group initiatives originated under President Clinton. In 1996 Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. Its “Charitable Choice” provisions prohibited states from discriminating against religious organizations when choosing providers to deliver federal grant programs, and enabled religious organizations to provide federally-funded social services.

When President Bush came into office in 2000, he made faith-based initiatives a key priority of his administration. More than $2.3 billion of taxpayer money funded various social service programs provided by religious groups. However, few Jewish organizations received money, according to United Jewish Communities.

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