The Role of Religion in Public Life (New York)
12:00 – 1:30 p.m.
New York, New York
E.J. DIONNE: I’d like to welcome everyone to this discussion and celebration of our book, Sacred Places, Civic Purposes: Should Government Help Faith-Based Charity? We are blessed to have so many wonderful people with us today at this discussion sponsored by the Brookings Institution and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. I’d like to thank Reverend Calvin Butts and everyone at Abyssinian Baptist Church for sharing their time and space with us to hold this conversation in such a beautiful sanctuary.
I love the book of James, not only because I have a son named James but also because I think James had it exactly right – James the writer, that is, and the gospel. My son is right sometimes, too. The Gospel writer had it exactly right when he said, “Faith without works is dead.” You could say that James was the very first person to ask the question: You can talk the talk but can you walk the walk? And you could say that our theme today is about the work that people of faith – the ones who walk the walk – do every single day. It’s the work of solving problems, of helping others, of lifting up the outcast and the needy, of binding social wounds and forging bonds of community and brotherhood and sisterhood.
I promise I won’t speak long today, because we have so many very special people to participate in the conversation. So I just want to say a couple of things about Sacred Places, Civic Purposes.
First, we’re here to celebrate Sacred Places, Civic Purposes, and the 47 people who contributed to it. Apropos of Mrs. Clinton, It Takes a Village to Raise a Child, it took a village to produce a book like this. Ming Hsu, the co-editor, and Kayla Drogosz and also Staci Simmons and Christina Counselman might be seen as the town council of that village. I want to thank them for all the work they did.
The theme of the book is straightforward, that sacred places serve civic purposes. They help solve problems, including the problems of crime and teen pregnancy. They help find solutions in child care, community development and education. These are the subjects that we’ve focused on in the book.
You don’t have to be a Republican or a Democrat, a liberal or a conservative, to notice the role our religious institutions play. The last time I looked, God did not have a party membership card, even though it’s true that on election day most of us assume God belongs to whichever party we do.
The book deals with issues around President Bush’s proposals to expand government help to faith-based organizations, but this project began before President Bush took office and its purpose is neither to praise nor to condemn the president. We suggest that before the country has a polarized, partisan and ideological debate, all of us should look carefully at what churches, synagogues, mosques and the houses of worship and meditation of other faiths are accomplishing right now, often in partnership with government, without raising a single First Amendment problem.
Assemblyman Denny Farrell from this area told me recently that he is a strong believer in the separation of church and state and that he always tries to find money for programs connected to religious institutions in his neighborhood. That’s not a contradiction. It’s the story of our ongoing struggle to protect religious liberty. We protect it not for the purpose of undermining religion but to honor and raise up the powerful contributions religious people and institutions make to the commonweal.
You don’t have to believe that our religious institutions can replace government — I don’t believe that at all — to acknowledge their indispensable role. The people in religious institutions can be both practical and loving providers of service and also prophetic and critical voices. They ask us to heed the words of Isaiah, “to undo the heavy burdens and let the oppressed go free.”
Now, people in these institutions were doing this a long time ago. Dr. King, in his letter from the Birmingham jail, spoke of “those noble souls from the ranks of organized religion who have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in this struggle for freedom. They have carved a tunnel of hope,” Dr. King said, “through the mountain of disappointment,” and if I may add they are carving out that tunnel of hope still.
Few events more powerfully underscore the relationship between faith and public life than the public response to the assaults of September 11th. Throughout the nation citizens spontaneously flocked to their houses of worship in search of consolation, understanding and solidarity. Prayer and meditation, along with the acts of generosity and mercy that so often followed, partook of both the sacred and the civic realms. Americans discussed the urgency of religious toleration and the paradox of religious commitment, depending on how it is understood, can unit communities or divide them from each other. It can lead, we have learned, to love or hatred.
The terrible events pushed our country I think toward a new spirit of seriousness and reflection, creating a moment that might allow us to begin our national conversation on the meaning of faith in our public life.
It’s that conversation that we’re having here today and it’s why it gives me such great pleasure to introduce our three opening speakers. I certainly don’t have to introduce Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to you. She is well known to you. She was well known for her work with children long before she became a household name, and she is known as a person who has reflected on her faith. And if I can give away a secret here, she and our second speaker, John DiIulio, engaged in a very fruitful dialogue behind the scenes in the last several months, and I thought it was a blessing that both of them would be so kind to share that dialogue with us today publicly. It’s a great honor to have you with us, Mrs. Clinton.
John DiIulio, as you know, was the head of the president’s office on faith-based and community initiatives. He is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. John has been working at this issue I think longer than anybody in the room, and I know as a friend he is a spectacular human being with enormous heart.
And finally Steve Goldsmith. Steve Goldsmith is the former mayor of Indianapolis. He is also the chair of the Corporation for National Service. I’ve gotten to know Steve Goldsmith over several years and at many meetings on public policy, and here’s one of the things that’s most striking about Steve. It’s not unusual for a politician to brag on his or her achievements. Steve usually skips that part and he goes to the problems that aren’t solved yet and he tends to talk not only about things he did that worked but also the things he did that didn’t work. I find that very refreshing in a public figure and we’re honored to have you with us today.
It gives me great pleasure to introduce Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Thank you so much for joining us today.
SENATOR HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY): Thank you very much. It is a great honor to be back in this historic and beautiful church, especially since the last time I was here the scaffolding was still up. To see the church in all of its glory during the Christmas season is especially a treat for me.
I want to thank the church for hosting this forum and even more for the work that it does every day. I particularly want to thank Karen Phillips and Darren Walker for their leadership and the inspirational example of Dr. Butts, because I think that this church has demonstrated that it is possible to intervene effectively in a community through the Development Corporation and other efforts that it has undertaken for a number of years under Dr. Butts’ leadership.
I’m delighted to be here with my friend E.J. I probably shouldn’t call him that. I’m going to blow his journalistic objectivity, but I have a great regard and respect for the issues that he writes about and takes on. I want to congratulate both E.J. and Ming Hsu Chen for this very important book.
If I had one small quibble, it would be that the subtitle, “Should Government Help Faith-Based Charities?” might better read, “Should Government Partner with Faith-Based Charities?” because what we’re really looking for is a partnership. We’re not looking for the government to help charities. That is not, I think, the mindset that many of us bring to this forum or to the work that we’ve done. The question is instead, how do we partner?
I have a very strong conviction that our society has lasted so well because we have this unique combination that I’ve referred to as a three-legged stool between an effective, functioning free market that creates opportunities and allows people to fulfill their God-given potential within the economic sphere, an effective government that has stood the test of time that translates democracy into function, and a civil society in which most of what’s worth doing in life takes place and where we exercise our faith and associate with one another. That is the balance that I always seek in any discussion like this – how do we keep those three legs of that stool all functioning together. Clearly, the partnerships that we are discussing today and that this book speaks to and that many of you have helped to pioneer are a critical component of how we maintain the social balance and how we provide services to create opportunities for people to fulfill their own potential.
So I want to thank John and Mayor Goldsmith, as well as the members of the clergy who are here, for your commitment to this issue.
I too love James – as a gospel not an individual (laughter) – and I’ve often thought that the famous phrase from the scriptures that E.J. quoted, “faith without works is dead,” might well be followed by “works without faith is hard.” It can be done and we know many people who do it. But particularly if we’re talking about works that go to the most difficult problems in our society, such works are very hard to sustain without a fundamental faith in our God, in our particular religious tenets, in the belief that we are all equal in the eyes of God.
So what I hope to do today is to make a few remarks about this issue and about this good book. It’s not “the Good Book,” but it is a good book and a worthy guide to many of the difficult problems we are sorting through as we try to define and support this partnership.
Now, as E.J. has said so well, if we were holding this forum on September the 10th we would be raising many of these issues, but since September the 11th the particular urgency that we face has made this discussion even more important.
I spent my morning in meetings with many of the survivors of the attacks on September 11th to try to figure out how we can in some very small way demonstrate as a society our recognition of the loss that people have suffered. Certainly, the role of faith-based institutions in the aftermath of September 11th has been obvious. But it has also gotten us thinking about the role of religion in our public life because certainly the terrorists hijacked more than four planes that day. They hijacked the name of a great religion, which they used as an excuse and rationale to commit their evil acts.
So I hope that we will look for ways that we can move this dialogue forward not just in the legislative arena, which will be a particular subject to discuss, but in the day to day public life that all of us share.
Now, how do we go about doing that? Well, I would go back to the language of our founders, who I think brilliantly grasped a lot of profound issues that are still relevant today. One of their great insights was the recognition of both the abilities and the appetites of human beings, how we are all capable of accomplishing great things for each other, given the freedom and opportunity to do so, but how we are also capable of doing terrible things to each other given the freedom and opportunity to do so.
The founders had faith in reason, which, as Tony Lewis observed in his excellent farewell column on Saturday, is a part of the American mindset, but I would also add they had faith in God from whom the ability to reason is a gift. So they created an ingenious system of checks and balances that – with some profound modifications along the way, such as the freeing of slaves and the granting of the right to vote and the hard struggle to form a more perfect union – have helped us to create this remarkable nation that enables us to harness our capacity for ingenuity and growth, while reigning in our capacity to accumulate too much power or to do each other too much harm.
If I could pick one word to describe the brilliance of the founders and what we have to fight for every day, it’s equipoise. It’s how do we keep that balance, how do we make sure that no one part of our society gets too much power, no one force can unleash its power against others, that all have the tools available to them that are really promised as an underlying tenet of faith both before God and before our government.
It is this kind of effort to balance the intersection of faith and government that we are striving to strike now, because if government goes too far and seeks to go beyond separation from religion to outright hostility toward religion you can end up with something like the old Soviet Union where atheism was the enforced belief system, where religion was actively suppressed, where churches were destroyed, where Jews and others were prosecuted, where people of faith were ridiculed, shunned, even jailed and killed.
And yet as we know from our recent experience that if religion goes too far and seeks to smother government, you end up with something like the Taliban, where the tenets of an extreme faith are used to oppress women and children and the worshipping of any god but the god prescribed by the theocracy, where a particular version of that worship is the only one acceptable and anything contrary to it is punishable by death.
Here in America we are not in danger of either extreme, but I think we should keep extremes in mind as we carry out this discussion, because going back to the balance, to the equipoise, there is always the threat of human nature intervening and using the instruments of power in either the public or the private sector to enforce beliefs and systems on those who by freedom of conscience should not be so subjected.
So we do have to recognize that while there is much good we can do in this partnership between government and faith, there are also paths that we could deliberately or inadvertently go down that might do more harm than good. Forging a consensus is absolutely critical, and we should begin by recognizing that government in our country has historically played an important role in the propagation of faith in our society – not the advocacy of a particular faith, but an appropriate and constitutional encouragement of the practice of faith. For example, our tax system is structured in ways that help religions institutions. The deduction of contributions to churches and synagogues and mosques and other places of worship is permissible. That is one way we place an economic value on the practice of religion. It doesn’t tell people to be religious. There are even some European countries today that still require a deduction for the church from the income, whether you are a willing believer or not. We don’t do that, but we encourage giving and provide a reward through the tax system.
We also know that there are many people who have used their religious beliefs to further governmental aims such as the abolitionist movement, such as the civil rights struggle, such as the labor movement; ways in which faith motivated actions that translated eventually into laws and the furtherance of equality before God and government.
We find many examples of that throughout New York; certainly here at Abyssinian Baptist Church with the economic development work that’s been done. Tax deductible contributions help keep this independent organization going, which has a clear link not just to a religion but to a specific church. I don’t think there is anyone – or if there is, it’s a very, very small number – who would argue that is inappropriate. In fact, I would like to see many more such development corporations created in conjunction with churches such as Abyssinian.
Tax dollars are also used to promote public purposes such as feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. We see that in the efforts that many churches are engaged in not through their own development corporations but in partnership with existing organizations that create opportunities for people. An example of that is the work that Reverend Johnny Ray Youngblood, along with many other clergy and congregations, in creating the Nehemiah Housing Program to provide affordable housing or what Reverend Floyd Flake has done with senior centers and homes and schools that have been created. I can literally go on for hours talking about the specific examples you can draw just from this city.
But I think we know that we have some other potential opportunities that we should be exploring, which is really what we’re talking about here. I like the idea of streamlining the process of setting up a non-profit organization that can receive tax deductible contributions so that many of the groups that are interested in following the example of Abyssinian can do so more easily. Senator Lieberman, who is working very hard with our colleagues Senator Santorum on the Senate version of such legislation, calls this an EZ pass for religions institutions that want to accomplish broad public goals. This is an example not of government intruding on religion, but of government removing a roadblock and using the tax system to encourage faith inspired charitable work.
There is another idea that I actually promoted in the first conference on philanthropy that was ever held at the White House when my husband was still president. One of the specific recommendations was to allow people who don’t itemize to take some deduction for charitable giving. All of the statistics demonstrate that the most generous people in America in relative terms with respect to the percentage of their income that they give to charity are people whose incomes are less than $35,000 a year who give to their churches. Because they don’t itemize, they don’t get the benefits that those of us who have more income and keep track of every penny we give can get on the tax system. I think we should be working to provide such an opportunity for people who don’t itemize to encourage their generosity of spirit.
I do not approve of giving money to organizations that can discriminate against people on the basis of sex, race or other characteristics. I don’t think government should be in the business of encouraging practices of behavior that run counter to the values enshrined in our Constitution. I also, as you probably know, do not agree with the provision of vouchers for people to leave public schools for private schools, including religious schools, as supportive as I am of religious schools and as supportive as I have been of non-voucher support for religious schools. I think we have to sustain the support we give to the public school system, especially as we are about to sign this important piece of legislation that I hope will give us both more resources and better results for our children in public schools.
I am concerned about the potential impact on many faith-based institutions with respect to unwanted federal intrusion into the confidential affairs of churches. Government auditors will follow government money. They will need to because we will have to hold such money accountable. That means that government auditors will have to go over books in such institutions to ensure that funds are being appropriately spent. My colleagues in Congress will have oversight responsibilities and I worry about the spectacle of the government questioning religious leaders about federally-funded programs without the separation that 501(c)(3) not-for-profit entities provide.
I also worry about a potential culture of dependency that can result once federal funds flow to particular ventures within society. There’s always a risk that taxpayer dollars will supplant – not supplement – private contributions and that religious institutions will begin to compete for the attention and scarce dollars of government. I don’t think we want, nor should we allow, federal government to get in the way of the free and unfettered practice of religion by individuals and their congregations.
In addition, I would caution us not to set up any kind of system that would serve as either a substitute for, not an addition to, government support or as an excuse for not providing more government support for people in need. We have seen certainly in the wake of September 11th the extraordinary generosity of the people of America. In the absence of government support, however, that generosity in and of itself would not be sufficient for the many needs that we face in rebuilding lives and structures.
The encouragement of faith-based acts should be a value-added enterprise, not a zero-sum game. This should not be an excuse for government to withdraw from the obligations we hold in common to one another.
So I hope that we will be able to work our way to a new understanding and consensus about how to partner with government and people of faith. During the Clinton administration, for example, when we were faced with court rulings that set out new and sometimes conflicting rules of conduct for governments and religious practices involving our schools, the Secretary of Education published a guidebook. We found that many schools just took a knee-jerk reaction, saying that nothing about religion could happen in schools, which was absolutely not what the Constitution and court decisions said. The guidebook was not a list of “cannots;” it was a list of “how-tos,” and I think that is fundamental to what this discussion should lead to.
In addition, as you may know, with a bipartisan majority in Congress, we were able to achieve the charitable choice provision within the Welfare Reform Act. That balance of providing both government funding and support, along with charitable choice, is really where I hope we will end up.
Finally, let me say a word about politics. There have been many who have stereotyped both political parties. The Democratic Party appeared to be not simply neutral toward but actually hostile toward religious people, while the Republican Party appeared to be holier than thou and not very open to arguments about the role of government. Many people of moderation feared that Democrats were too secular and elitist and Republicans were too preachy and intolerant.
I think that we have got to get beyond being Democrats who view religion as an alien concept and Republicans who use it as a weapon. It is imperative that we bring people together in a bipartisan fashion to work on the kind of rules for this partnership that are called for. We have this opportunity now, and I appreciate the sincere efforts that people like John and others have undertaken. But I think that this, maybe more than any issue we’ve dealt with, cannot afford to be seen as falling along partisan lines. This is an issue that should bring people of good faith together across lines and open up even greater opportunities for us to demonstrate our faith in action within the public sphere.
Let me thank you for being part of the conversation that this book helps to kick off. It enables us to go from where we are now with a recognition of the necessity of religion not only in our individual lives but in our social political life and look for ways to lead us to a resolution of the many issues and challenges surrounding the appropriate place of faith. Let us recognize there is and should be such a partnership and all of us have a responsibility to define it.
Thank you very much.
E.J. DIONNE: Thank you very, very much, Senator Clinton. I’m glad you brought up that 501(c)(3) EZ pass. I have been doing work on this subject for a while and I imagine some day I’m going to be driving down the street and will go by a church that will be named Saint 501(c)(3).
I think you made a very important point on the culture of dependency for the churches. John and I organized a meeting some years back on this subject, and this is not an issue that is ideological. There was a man in the back of the room from the Gospel Mission Movement who got up and said, “Just so you know who I am, we’re the people who hit you over the head with the bible and pour soup down your throat.” And he was more concerned than almost anyone in the room with this issue of the culture of dependency, and there were times when he and the representative of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State were actually on the same page. I think one of the things we’ve learned is that discussion, once you carry it out for more than about five minutes, is richer and more complicated.
And speaking of richer and more complicated in the spiritual sense – not in the material sense – I want to call my friend John DiIulio.
JOHN DIIULIO: I thought you were going to say weightier and more complicated.
It’s an honor, E.J., to be here. I appreciate the good work of the folks at Abyssinian who have organized this event. It’s a special privilege and honor to be with Senator Clinton. I was going to say it’s even an honor and privilege to be with my colleague Steve Goldsmith, but we’re too close for me to say that so I won’t say that, Steve.
I used to joke that I had been in the Ivy League for 20 years as a student and then a professor across three different universities – Harvard, Princeton and Yale. After those two decades I have learned the definition of an Ivy League professor, which is somebody who can speak for five minutes or two hours on any subject without any essential change in content. (Laughter.)
Then I got to Washington for eight months and served as a senior White House official, and I modified the joke to say that I learned the true definition of one of those, which is somebody who can speak for five minutes or two hours on any subject and say nothing at all. (Laughter.)
I’m going to try to say a few things here this morning and you will forgive us, since this is totally unrehearsed, if all I do is essentially say one long elaborate amen to everything that Senator Clinton has said. Her thoughts and leadership on these issues have been, continue to be and I believe are going to be even more central and important in the weeks, months and years ahead, because everything she said is true, down to the last detail.
I believe that, speaking as a person of faith, that the God of everybody – Methodists, Muslims, Mormons, good people of no particular religious faith at all – is truly the God of nobodies, is in some sense especially the God of nobodies. It’s not just the God of presidents and prime ministers; it’s the God of pimps and prostitutes and prisoners. It’s not just the God of people who are well-housed and well-fed and who have but it’s the God of everybody – children of prisoners, of whom we have over two million in this country on any given day. God knows and loves them. The people who are in homeless shelters and battered women shelters, God knows and loves them.
What I believe this faith-based movement is about and the partnerships about which Senator Clinton spoke so eloquently and so powerfully is really simply acknowledging the good works of godly people who enter the public square primarily to serve the nobodies. It’s really about the needy and neglected when you get down to it all. It’s really about people of faith who mentor children of promise. It’s really about, as the book says, sacred places serving civic purposes with a special heart for the poor, for the concerns of those who lack basic social services.
And I want to tell you – speaking less as a preacher and more as a professor for a moment – that all the evidence suggests that God forbid if we did not have these sacred places out there serving these civic purposes.
We had a study in Philadelphia – which is really the only place on earth I truly know at all – that was essentially a census of community-serving congregations, churches, synagogues, mosques, prayer church groups, small blessing station ministries, etc. We studied over a thousand of them, with three-hour site visits to each, and came up with very rich data. It suggests that in the city of Philadelphia, they’re providing over 200 different types of social services. There are housing rehab programs for people who are humming hymns while they hammer nails. There is volunteer support in an organization like Aid for Friends to reach the elderly shut-ins. There are people who run small drug rehab programs and job training programs, counseling programs, homeless shelters and literally scores and scores more.
And, in fact, one of my colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania tried to estimate the monetary value of these social services that are provided by the faith community in that city, looking at it from the standpoint of monetizing the value of the space sort of at the Motel 6 rates, the church basement, and looking at the volunteer hours in terms of sub minimum wage and came up with a very conservative estimate that even the Wharton school would accept. The estimate was about a quarter of a billion dollars a year worth of social services provided primarily by the faith community in that city.
Now, a quarter of a billion dollars may not sound like a lot if you think of a government budget, but it goes a long, long way toward meeting what would otherwise be critical unmet social needs in that city.
So these community helpers and healers, these “armies of compassion” as the president likes to call them, these folks are out there, but I want to underline and echo and reinforce what Senator Clinton said. They cannot do it alone. Too often – whether it’s here in Harlem or in North Central Philly or South Central Los Angeles or downtown Detroit – they are making bricks without straw. They are not getting public help and they are not getting private help. It is not where the foundation dollars go. It is not where the corporate dollars go.
One of my proudest moments serving the president was when he gave a commencement address at Notre Dame, which as a Roman Catholic, I thought was a pretty neat thing to do. E.J. is smiling, too; he can’t be partisan in any way in politics, but he’s smiling. The president gave a speech at Notre Dame and talked about faith initiatives and paused on the fact that in corporate America, six of the top ten corporations have an absolute ban on giving to any kind of community serving organization that happens to be at all religious in character. I’m not talking about proselytizing groups. We’re not talking about groups that are going to take funds and convert them and use them for worship services. We’re talking about social services, even so an absolute ban.
They’re not getting support from the private side and they’re also not getting much support from the public side. In a given neighborhood, they could be providing a quarter of all the housing rehab work that actually goes on in that neighborhood and yet get 1/10th of 1 percent of all the funds, public and private, that go into that neighborhood. And the same thing could be true for a whole range of other social services.
I’m here to tell you that I don’t believe – and I don’t believe President Bush believes – that the answer is to let the churches “do it all.” Of course they can’t. They can’t.
The line in one of President Bush’s early campaign speeches that to me as a partisan capital-D Democrat was most appealing was the line where he said “government cannot be replaced by charities.” I think that was a breakthrough moment, at least with resolve, Mayor Goldsmith. Government cannot be replaced by charities but it should welcome them as partners and not resent them as rivals; in other words partnerships — partnerships.
How do we build these partnerships? I think one very good answer is the answer that Senator Clinton mentioned in passing near the end of her remarks. The charitable choice legislation that passed in 1996 as a provision of the so-called Welfare Reform Law basically said, “Look, religious organizations, you have more or less an equal opportunity to participate in the government contracting process. You’ve got to play by the same rules but if it’s within your benevolent traditions and your theological traditions to step forward and say ‘I want to apply under a given program’ for juvenile justice delinquency prevention funds or for welfare to work funds or whatever it might be, you can do that and you don’t have to take down your religious iconography. You don’t have to refrain from any use of God-speak. You can say ‘God bless you’ even when nobody has sneezed. We’re not going to take the money away from you. And yeah they’ll have to get into your books a bit but only for the purposes of that program.” It’s not an open invitation any more than it is when the University of Pennsylvania takes money.
Let them step forward and say we’re doing this service. We’ve been at it for many years. We’re not getting much support. Level the playing field a little bit. That’s what the 1996 charitable choice provision began to do and it’s where the consensus may ultimately prove to lie, at least in terms of the legislation and Washington.
But I think there are a few principles that need to be followed as we step forward. Let me just briefly recite them for you and then turn my motor off. The first principle is the separation of church and state. Nobody I know – or I should say, nobody I agree with, because that’s probably what I mean to say – advocates any kind of use of public funds for proselytizing or conversion services. What’s interesting about that is if you look at this data not only on Philadelphia but on all the cities where community serving religious organizations have been studied, you find that with very few exceptions they do not make entering the building or receiving the service or participating in the program in any way contingent upon any present or future expression of religious faith. That may be hard to believe in some cases, but that is the fact.
Whether it’s the fact or not, public law ought not to permit any kind of use of public funds for social services to be used for worship services – period, case closed. I took a fair amount of heat during my time in the job for that position, because not everybody views it that way. But I think we absolutely cannot go forward unless it’s on the basis of an agreement at least on that much, whatever the separation of church and state may mean to us.
A second principle is the principle of non-discrimination. You cannot under the existing civil rights laws discriminate against perspective beneficiaries on any grounds — race, creed, color, lack of creed, whatever. You cannot turn someone away. If you receive penny one of public funds for the program, those doors have to be open, period. Things get more complicated when it gets to the question of hiring and the right of these organizations to take religion into account in hiring, but there I think the existing laws themselves furnish very reliable guidelines. I would hope as the debate goes forward about government partnerships with religious organizations that we do nothing to weaken the existing protections that are in the law, that respect both religious interests and rights as well as the employment non-discrimination interests.
And third and finally, let me just say I think that the key to fashioning successful partnerships is to remember that the God of everybody is the God of nobody, that this has to be about the least, the last and the lost of this society. We can focus, for example, as the president did when he came to Philadelphia — it was a glorious day on July 4th. He came for a three-hour genuine Philadelphia block party. And I say that even though he didn’t get to eat much. I took care of that side. But he came for three hours and really was there.
It was an extraordinary event. He was there primarily to celebrate one program in Philadelphia, which I think exemplifies the whole spirit of what we’re trying to achieve. It’s a program called Amachi, which is a West African word I’m told that means “who knows but what God has brought us through these children.” It’s a program that is run by the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America and it works in partnership with about 40 churches. To make a long story short, in the space of about seven months they’ve matched 500 prisoners’ children with a loving, caring adult at the request of the mom or dad who’s incarcerated and with the support of the rest of the family. It’s small but it’s a big start. And it’s a program again with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, which is a major independent sector secular organization working with religious organizations and doing that with the full support of our great mayor in Philadelphia, Mayor John Street. It’s a public, private, religious, secular community serving outreach program of partnerships.
I believe if we can keep that spirit, this question of “can sacred places serve civic purposes” will be answered with a resounding “yes.” In any case, I praise God for this day and for this gathering.
E.J. DIONNE: I told you he was a Baptist preacher. (Laughter.) Any congregations that want him as a minister can apply and he can get permission from his bishop to take the job.
It’s a great honor to have Steve Goldsmith here. He is a pioneer in this area as well. The Front Porch Alliance, which is a great name for a program, was his program in Indianapolis and used very small amounts of government seed money to help local and neighborhood groups around the city. I know that’s one of the things he’s going to talk to us about. Steve, it’s great to have you here.
STEPHEN GOLDSMITH: Thank you. I’m honored to be here with Senator Clinton and appreciate her pragmatic view of this issue. I’m more troubled by John. I’ve known him for a long time. I thought he was a university professor, but he does indeed sound like a preacher. When Senator Clinton was giving her reasonable description of Democrat and Republican extremes, DiIulio elbowed me and said “she’s talking about you.” (Laughter.) I think in jest, but I’m not positive.
Let me just do this very quickly. I had an opportunity to participate some with this administration on the faith-based initiative with John and also as a mayor, and let me frame the issue this way quickly.
When I was first elected mayor – I took office in 1992 – I looked at some of the tougher urban areas in the country and had a friend of mine, Kurt Schmoke, take me through Baltimore at the time and looked at what they were doing to try to redevelop the city. I went back to Indianapolis and took seven neighborhoods of 8,000 to 20,000 individuals each and said I was going to do everything possible the government should do to help the individuals in those neighborhoods have a future. These neighborhoods had been neglected for a long period of time.
Indianapolis is a little bit bigger than Baltimore and some of the neighborhoods aren’t quite as bad as many of the same size, but for the next several years, we did everything possible. We rebuilt the roads. We put more police officers out. We helped with housing and we spent probably $100 million of local money trying to rebuild those neighborhoods. Overall, we spent a billion dollars on infrastructure and a few years later, we stood back and half of those seven neighborhoods were doing well – or better, at any rate – and in half of them, not much had happened. We tried to discern what the difference was.
And it turns out that the communities that were doing better were those that had a more robust civic infrastructure where the local participation and the local leadership was standing tall and rallying people around it and the neighborhoods that weren’t were those that didn’t have much local leadership.
I start with this story because I think it’s important when we speak about faith-based initiatives, as Senator Clinton mentioned, that we remember that there is a role for government as a foundation, and that this conversation should not be one about how to foist off on charitable and church groups the responsibilities of government. At the same time, government can huff and puff and do all those things that mayors and governors like to take credit for and still not create a vibrant and exciting and even virtuous community where young children and families have a chance to succeed.
So as a foundation, we began the effort that E.J. mentioned called the Front Porch Alliance, and I asked my planning department to map out the assets in these seven neighborhoods, these seven communities. Unsurprisingly, the predominant asset was the church, occasionally a mosque and not very frequently a synagogue. We began an effort to see how government could participate as a partner with the faith-based communities, and the model we used was one more of a civic switchboard – what are the obstacles, what are the opportunities, how can government participate as a partner and not necessarily using large amounts of money. We did 600 of these with 400 faith-based organizations. I will not mention them all, but let me just note a couple of examples.
My first experience with this issue was that mayors are generally provided from the federal government job training dollars. Several years ago I determined that we would put out that money to neighborhood organizations and encourage faith-based organizations to participate so that they would train urban youth over the summer in these jobs, because the general job training money doesn’t produce much value because it goes away at the end of the summer.
At the end of the summer, I was told I violated the terms of the summer job training partnership, and I said, “How did I do that? I don’t think anybody just abused the funds.” And they said, “You allowed some of these organizations to allow the young men and women participating in the program to say a silent prayer before lunch.” They weren’t required to say any prayer, but they were allowed to if they wished. So essentially what they said is, “Look, if you want to have a program where the kids can curse, more power to you, but if you have a program where the kids can pray, it violates the laws of the federal government.”
This wasn’t, in my opinion, neutrality, this was discrimination that says you can have any program you want that trains kids in how to have a job except those where they’re allowed to exercise their faith. So we began this effort to try to reach out to neighborhood organizations and over the next several years did the range of things, all of which are being done also close to here, but we had an explicit effort to do it. And whether it’s the Ten Point Coalition with pastors helping reduce crime, whether it’s reaching out to community development corporations like the strong one that’s located in this church itself, whether it’s asking small churches to help take juvenile delinquents and supervise their probation rather than putting them into the delinquency center, whether it’s explicit programs for teen pregnancy as discussed in large part in this book and on and on and on, that our goal was to help become a partner.
Now, just to do one little one as an example, in Philadelphia and in Indianapolis where these things have been studied, the average congregation is not 10,000 or 5,000 or 4,000; it’s 400 and has a part-time pastor who works during the day and takes care of the congregation at night and on weekends and whenever he or she can. And what we found was a number of those pastors didn’t want really very much to do with government. It would take more time to fill out grant applications than they had for the whole week for the congregation, literally. But they wanted to do good deeds, and so we created an office in the mayor’s office that went door to door, knocked on these churches and offered to help.
And the requests were quite sensible. They were, “Look, there’s a crack house next door and I want to make it into senior housing. Why don’t you condemn the house and turn it over to the church for a dollar so we can fix it up?” They were requests that said, “Look, we have zoning violations up and down this street where people are doing things they shouldn’t do. Why don’t you just enforce the laws like you’re supposed to?” I still remember the part-time pastor said across the street is a vacant lot and there are dogfights that scare the kids in the neighborhood. Why don’t you take control of that lot and help us put the resources to make it into a playground?” This pastor was going to take his two blocks and make it into an oasis of hope for the children in that community, and we got the lot and the corporations donated the volunteers and lo and behold they turned it into a playground with equipment and the right statement, and on and on and on. Often the city of Indianapolis spent a little bit of money, but these were basically brokering opportunities and bringing people together.
So despite the conversation in Washington – which it seems to me has been fought about the very important constitutional but somewhat abstract issue about how the parties are going to relate – I’d suggest that we look at a very pragmatic way and that is to say let’s just at least be neutral to faith-based organizations and create the partnerships around it.
Now, some of those faith-based organizations are pervasively sectarian; they help children out of paths in drugs by having the children find confidence and belief in God, and that inoculates them when they go back out on the street against the bad things that they may see. Others are very pragmatic solutions, where a faith-based organization is operating a shelter. I talked about this issue several years ago with a friend of mine, the mayor of Milwaukee, John Norquist. A lot of people criticized me and John passed me a little note I found when I moved out of my mayor’s office that said, “You know, there are a lot worse things for urban kids than religion.” So I mean he’s basically saying, “Look, I’m taking a pragmatic view and if I can find a partner I want one.”
There are lots of ways to referee the issue in Washington. Obviously the best way, as the Senator mentioned, is through tax credits that encourage people to contribute, particularly non-itemizers who now can’t contribute. There are programs that allow the benefits to follow those in need, so that person can choose where they get their job training and therefore eliminate the problems of a faith-based organization trying to deal with government. And there finally are opportunities for faith-based organizations to apply in a non-discriminatory way for grant dollars. I don’t think any of us on the panel suggests there ought to be a separate pot of dollars for faith-based organizations, but we do think that we ought to eliminate the discriminatory prohibitions so that faith-based organizations – as in the charitable choice language that was signed by President Clinton and supported by President Bush – can operate across more government funding streams today.
There are lots of problems, lots of issues. Some of my friends who have worked in churches said, “Look, Mayor, I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but I want nothing to do with you. We just want to do our own thing and we want to do it well.” Others are concerned about capacity. Others are concerned about bureaucracy.
But let me just close with one I think wonderful story. I was a prosecutor years ago, and prosecuted a murder case, where a young man watched his father, who was a chaplain, murdered in his front yard on a snowy night in a dollar robbery. The chaplain was white and the shooter was black, right, and you can kind of anticipate what would happen from that point.
Well, the young man grew up and became a pastor like his father who was shot, and decided that what he was going to do was he was going to devote his life to bringing the races together and helping urban kids, right, that instead of taking the anger into prejudice he took the anger into hope. And then he decided that he was going to go and minister to the shooter who was in prison who shot his father, and then he was convinced and he came to see me one day and said, “I want you to help me get this man out of prison.” I said, “Why?” And he said, “Because you have helped us take an urban area and we’re going to put in a gymnastics arena and we’re going to encourage neighborhood kids to come there and then we’re going to tutor them while they’re there. And this man has found God and I’m going to bring in suburban church groups to witness what goes on so that they will understand the opportunities and the problems that urban youth face, and we’re going to bring all this together.”
And this young man, whose story was featured last week on “48 Hours,” took this event, took a little bit of help from the city and a lot of faith and is turning around a lot of kids. And those are the opportunities that happen daily in New York City and Indianapolis and they are opportunities that need to be nourished not biased against by government.
Thank you very much.
E.J. DIONNE: Thank you very much. I remember talking to John once about this issue of what people can do without going to court. He was speaking to an audience and he said, “If you don’t think this is right, sue me,” and then he looked up and said, “That’s not a hostile comment; in America if you don’t sue somebody and take them to court it means you don’t take the issue seriously, and I want Americans to take this issue seriously.”
I want to invite up Ming Hsu and Darren Walker for a response to this great panel. We’ve had a Democrat, a Republican and a Democrat who works for a Republican, so it’s been a very well balanced program.
Ming, would you join us, please?
MING HSU CHEN: I wanted to start by thanking everyone for the opportunity to be here today, and by thanking E.J. for the opportunity to work on this book. It’s not every day that someone who is in their first year out of college gets to work on such a significant project, and I’m really grateful for that chance.
I also want to thank our very distinguished panelists for being here to help celebrate the kick-off of this book and also for continuing the dialogue that was very much the cause of this book and that we hope will continue, regardless of what the political climate looks like.
Most of all, I want to thank all of you in the audience for being here. Many of you were contributors to the book and you were wonderful to work with, but I also thank those of you who are here who are really the ones out in the field doing this work, delivering these services and securing justice for the people who are the whole reason that we’re here.
I wanted to speak from the experience of working with 49 incredible authors and to add the perspective of looking at this issue of “Sacred Places and Civic Purposes” from within the context of the five issues that we address in the book. One of the first observations that I had in working with these excellent authors is that the nature of the problem is dramatically different when you’re talking about child care versus teen pregnancy versus community development. It’s not as easy to boil the argument into First Amendment debates or to boil it down into a question of charitable choice. It really matters on what service delivery you’re talking about. To follow Senator Clinton’s example, I think I could also quibble with the title a little bit to say that perhaps the subtitle should be, “Should Government Help Faith-Based Justice?,” because in two of the excellent essays that are in the book – one by Father Joe Hacala on community development and another by Ernie Cortez on education – they make the point that the question is not just about charity and it’s not just about social service delivery, but it is about fundamentally altering the structures of justice that ensure that people have a chance without needing to have handouts at the end of the day.
The second thing I wanted to point out by way of observation is that the level of controversy around this issue of faith-based partnerships with government really varies with the issue again. When you’re talking about an issue like teen pregnancy or crime and substance abuse, it’s inevitably going to be controversial, largely because of the subject of the matter, but also because of the method of treating it. Counseling might give rise to the risk of proselytizing in a way that providing church space for a child care program doesn’t. It’s important to remember that, because not every kind of government partnership with a faith-based organization is controversial. We also have the example of a lot of faith-based groups and faith-based programs that have existed for years. Programs have existed long before any of us heard about charitable choice, before any of us heard about the White House Office on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. And a lot of those programs to this very day continue to be the best examples out there of the kind of partnership that we’re looking to secure.
The final observation that I wanted to make, although Darren Walker can probably speak to this a lot more, is that the availability of alternative funding sources also varies drastically by issue. With community development, for example, you have incredible potential for business partnerships, as well as private giving and foundational giving. And that really changes the dynamics and the scope of the need for government assistance.
The fact that we’re in this room and we’ve talked about a lot of different denominations doesn’t overshadow the fact that the issue also changes not only based on the type of social service, but the type of faith that we’re talking about. Within the Christian community, it’s a very different kind of partnership and a very different type of service that might be offered in a mainline church versus the evangelical church. There may not be the same emphasis on proselytizing in the faith itself. And outside of the Christian tradition with the Muslim and the Buddhist faiths, you don’t necessarily have the same emphasis on proselytizing. So depending on the faith that you’re talking about, it’s not necessarily a controversial issue. There is, indeed, a lot of ground, a lot of common ground between faiths and across the issues. But I think it’s also really important to remember the differences that make this kind of partnership viable, even without the kind of obstacles that people are fearing.
E.J. DIONNE: And now you know why I was so lucky when Ming walked through the door of the Brookings Institution and wanted to work on this. It’s now very clear there’s a consensus that we need to change the subtitle of the book. One of the editors has now bolted. (Laughter.) So we’re going to have a contest and everybody can offer a suggested new subtitle and the winner of the contest will get a tour of faith-based institutions in Philadelphia from John DiIulio.
Darren, you’ve been a blessing throughout this project. You were here early on when Staci Simmons was looking around for how to do community development, and you were not only a contributor to the book in written form but you were so helpful to us in organizing our thinking and helping us pull other people together, so thank you for that.
DARREN WALKER: Good morning. I am very, very pleased to be here to talk a little bit about community development and respond to some of what has been said this morning. Of course, no one can do that better than Dr. Butts, but I will try to paraphrase some of the things that he has talked about in terms of a response to the charitable choice, faith-based agenda.
First of all, I think I agree with what Mayor Goldsmith said about the assets that churches represent in many communities. If you look across the country and you really were to do a scan of the urban landscape, the African American church is by and large the single thread of an institution that exists across the country. So it’s appropriate and reasonable to ask why the church can’t play a greater role in the affairs of the community and in partnering with government.
For many people, however, this is not new. For a lot of us doing this work we are still trying to understand what is the big deal because, in fact, the black church has been involved in community development before the Ford Foundation and the urban planners came up with the term. Black churches were building housing, doing micro-enterprise lending and all that good stuff in the 19th Century. So for many involved with the black church we still come back to what is the big deal.
I think in answering and looking at that and really trying to analyze what the big deal is, we recognize that there are opportunities and with these opportunities come minefields that are really fraught with a lot of things that concern us. And when Senator Clinton spoke of the need for a balance, I think that is really what the big deal is about. The balance that we are concerned about is a balance between the proselytizing and doing the work, between the lure of resources that are projected to be available to churches involved in this activity and the reality of the fact that the pie is actually shrinking, that there are no new resources, that for many of us the promise of additional dollars to do community development and social services work is, in fact, not materializing; in fact, in many places it is dwindling.
So with that in mind, we are concerned about the discussion being turned away from a discussion about how big the pie is to a discussion about how are we going to pass it around and slice it up into more with less. We want to keep the focus on how big the pie is.
Secondly, I think we are concerned about the notion of government supervision. Again, the Senator spoke about government partnership and government supervision. As an organization that has been a grantee of the federal government really since our first project, the project that Karen and Dr. Butts worked on back in the mid ’80s was, in fact, a HUD funded project and there were no impediments to our procuring those dollars. We are a grantee of probably the Department of Commerce, the Department of Education, the Department of Labor, et cetera, et cetera and at the state and local level as well. So the whole notion of government supervision of our activities is something that we are very aware of.
The reason we’re able to do what we do and not have the supervision of the church is because the Development Corporation is a separate and distinct legal entity from the church and as such the church does not have a legal fiduciary role in our activities. The problem is that this legality, which is critical, is not something that particularly small churches are aware of as a conditioned precedent to doing this work, nor does the government necessarily encourage this, nor do all churches upon learning this are they willing to do this is another question, because for many churches the idea of setting up a separate entity from the church itself is anathema to doing the church’s work. This is very problematic and it is something that I think should give us all a rise for concern about faith-based initiatives.
And I will close with just a couple of anecdotes that I think speak practically to the challenge of this agenda.
We here in Harlem and in New York City have experienced a scandal of major proportions in the last two years that was really perpetrated in the name of faith-based institutions. There were over 500 properties purchased by so-called faith-based institutions and secured by HUD loans. Those organizations were engaged in out-and-out fraud. It was perpetrated on poor people, unknowing elderly people. All sorts of things occurred in the name of faith. After the fact now what we’ve learned now is everyone was deferential to the organizations because they represented themselves as organizations of faith, representing small churches in different communities.
This is an example of what can happen when you do not have the balance that Senator Clinton speaks of and when you have an absolute deference when an organization presents itself as an organization of faith and prepared to do good work in communities.
And the last one is there is an RFP out now – I look around and I know many practitioners, we all know what RFPs are – to engage the faith community in doing certain kinds of welfare to work activities, to be funded by governmental institutions. Upon investigating this RFP, what I learned was, in fact, that the governmental agencies were expecting faith-based institutions to get at the business of counseling and sanctioning for people. The program calls for the grantees to monitor, counsel, write reports on and ultimately to report compliance or non-compliance, which could lead to the individuals being removed from the public assistance roles.
Now, I ask the question, is that a proper role for a church to play to tell the government that someone should get kicked off of welfare? For me that is a fundamental problem that from a practical sense, and while I think there are some brilliant scholars and theorists in Washington speaking about this issue, I am concerned on a practical level about the implications of the rollout of what you’re talking about and how it will impact our work and our ability to carry it out and remain true to our faith.
So I thank you for allowing me to speak today and thank you, John and E.J. for this great book.
E.J. DIONNE: It was worth coming here today, because I never heard my city of Washington described as a city of brilliant philosophers and theorists. (Laughter.) That’s pretty good.
I’d like to bring just a couple of people in the conversation before we close.
QUESTION: In all the discussion about September 11th, I’ve seen an outpouring of charity and there’s been an increase in religious feeling. I’m wondering how either of those or both of those affected some of the resistance and criticism from both sides, from the religious right perhaps and from liberals who didn’t want any kind of mixing of church and state.
JOHN DIIULIO: I think if I get the question right, it’s how, if at all, has the political debate in Washington changed after September 11th in terms of the outpouring of charity and the increase in religious sensibilities, and so forth?
I think the data are actually more complicated in some ways than people suggest in that there’s a greater willingness, sort of greater receptivity to religion, but it’s not clear exactly what form that takes or how far it goes or how it translates. With respect to the outpouring of charitable giving – I’m actually getting a lot of nasty letters about this because I wrote an op/ed column about this – the billion and a half dollars, which is so important and obviously here in New York City benefits so many, is only a limited amount of money that gets raised in any given season and a lot of community serving organizations are beginning to feel the pinch, that sort of crowd-out effect.
SENATOR CLINTON: I think that I tried to talk about that in my remarks, that basically there are people who have very strong feelings both for and against the ideas that we’re discussing and I believe that there is a way to work through the criticisms, which are very legitimate, and I thank Darren for being so specific about some of the concerns, to reach a good balance. And I believe that the post-September 11th outpouring of support demonstrated the fundamental generosity of the American people toward those in need, if it is as visible and obvious as what happened on September 11th.
I think that John’s point is also fair to take into account, because I hear the same thing from so many charities that they feel like they’re not getting the support they historically have, so that people whose needs are not connected with this terrible tragedy are being somehow overlooked or not given the help that they could have or should have counted on.
So I think you have to separate the practical effects from the ongoing debate, and I think you had a pretty good cross-section of views expressed and reported about what some of the difficulties of hammering out the compromise are.
STEPHEN GOLDSMITH: Let me just in 30 seconds give just a slightly different – not inconsistent, but different – answer. When we think about churches and faith-based organizations and the values and moral issues, another aspect of this is that churches tend to be great motivators for volunteerism and civic spirit participation. People of faith tend to disproportionately involve themselves in trying to help others.
What we see post-9/11 is this therapeutic outpouring of civic participation across the country in very large numbers. I’m chairman of the Corporation for National Service, the parent of Americorps. The number of Americorps applications is up dramatically. The Volunteer Match Internet site that matches volunteers is up 60 percent.
So I think that in the sense of civic participation people have recognized this avenue of participation.
E.J. DIONNE: You know, having this trans-partisan group I think is better even than bipartisan. When God comes into a political conversation it actually often becomes more ungodly than it was before, because people cast everybody else into the outer darkness. I just want to thank our panel – and Mrs. Clinton in particular – for engaging in very much the opposite of that. I don’t want to say we’ve had a godly conversation, because that’s the job that goes on up there, but I think it was a different kind of conversation than we have on this issue. This book is not out there as a commercial enterprise; it’s to promote a conversation like this, and I’m very grateful to our participants. Thank you very much.
Eileen, why don’t you say a last word?
EILEEN LINDNER: I’m one of the contributors to the book, I wrote one of the chapters on child care. As the Christian community awaits again the birth of the most famous poor child in human history, it seems axiomatic to say this ought to be a place where the needy can come.
Senator Clinton talked about the culture of dependency. I think we in the clergy profession or other leaders of other faith communities are also concerned about the culture of docility, does receiving government money oblige you to mute your criticism of government practice.
And so with great thanks to these wonderful editors we worked with, to the Pew Forum and to Brookings Institution we’re very grateful for framing the debate, but we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that the culture of docility is more to be feared than the culture of dependency.
E.J. DIONNE.: Sister Mary Rose, would you come to the mike, please?
SISTER MARY ROSE: I’m Sister Mary Rose from Covenant House. Many of you know that Covenant House is a shelter for runaway and homeless teenagers. In the past year we served about 6,000 kids right here in New York and we now have 15 Covenant Houses from coast to coast, including our newest one in Philadelphia. Business is booming there. (Laughter.)
Among the teenage problems that we deal with a lot is the problem of teenage pregnancy. I was on the panel sponsored by the Brookings Institution on teenage pregnancy and one of the brief chapters in the book I had the privilege of contributing.
The research that’s being done by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, on which I sit on the board, has shown that the best prevention for teenage pregnancy is good community-based programs, recreational programs, church-sponsored programs, values programs, sports programs, something good in the community to help kids to have good things to do with their time. And I feel very strongly that if the faith-based initiative money could be really shared with local churches who can’t afford to have really good youth programs, I would be for putting it all into local churches so that they could do good things for youth, so I’d have less business.
E.J. DIONNE: Many organizations helped us put together this event: the Corporation for National and Community Service, the National Council of Churches of Christ, United Jewish Communities and the UJA Federation of New York, the United Way, the Salvation Army, a long list of other groups here in the city. We want to say thank you to all of them.
I also want to thank The Pew Charitable Trusts, Kimon Sargeant, Luis Lugo and Julie Bundt and the staff of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, especially Staci Simmons who was there at the beginning of this project, the executive director Melissa Rogers and Amy Sullivan and finally my friends at the Brookings Institution Mike Armacost, Paul Light and Thomas Mann. Thank you so much for joining us. Please join us downstairs.