Can an Office Change a Country? The White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, A Year in Review
1:30 – 3:00 p.m.
Gregg Ivers, Professor and Chair, Department of Government, The American University
Paul Light, Vice President and Director, Governmental Studies Program, the Brookings Institution
Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, Associate Director, the University of Pennsylvania Washington Semester Program, and Guest Scholar, the Brookings Institution
Jim Towey, Director, White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives
E.J. Dionne, Jr., Senior Fellow, the Brookings Institution, and Co-Chair, the Pew Forum
MELISSA ROGERS: Good afternoon. I am Melissa Rogers, executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, and we’re very grateful that you could join us today. The Forum serves as a clearinghouse of information and a town hall for issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs, and we seek to be a true forum on the issues and for the exchange of ideas rather than an advocate on the issues.
We are supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts. We’re very grateful for that support, and also grateful that Julie Schultz of the Trusts could be with us today. We are also grateful to the Carnegie Endowment today for making their facilities available to us for our use. It’s very kind and generous of them to do so and we appreciate it. We have a number of other institutions that partner with us – Georgetown University, the Brookings Institution, and the University of Chicago – and we’re grateful for their partnership as well.
E.J. Dionne of the Brookings Institution and The Washington Post serves as co-chair of the Forum, along with Jean Bethke Elshtain, who is at the University of Chicago. Jean could not be with us today, but I’ll introduce E.J. in just a moment.
Today is kind of a banner day for religion and public life issues. I know many of you were over at the Court this morning when they heard the very important Zelman case involving whether it is constitutional to employ a voucher program including many religious schools. And now we turn to another fascinating issue in religion and public life, and that concerns the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives.
Let me just say a quick word about the report that you all picked up on your way in. About a year ago the President announced this initiative that has become known as the faith-based initiative, and through two executive orders created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, as well as a number of centers in the various federal agencies to work on issues related to social service provision by faith-based and community service providers.
We decided it would be very useful to have a report on the genesis of the White House office and its structure and workings, and so we decided to pursue that idea about a year ago. Of course, the merits of the President’s proposal were quite interesting to us, but also another thing that was interesting was the means by which the President pursued his goals in this initiative.
When we were thinking about doing this report, we quite naturally went to Paul Light, who is a great expert on the workings of government, and asked for his counsel. He was good enough to give it to us, and also direct us very wisely to Katie Dunn Tenpas, who in turn agreed to do the paper. We’re very, very grateful for that. E.J. helped to close the deal on the paper and we’re grateful for that as well. Any of you who have been on the receiving end of E.J.’s persuasion know that it’s kind of pointless to resist, so we were very grateful that he was able to help us in bringing this paper together.
So I want to thank Katie for her wonderful work on this project, and for Paul for his help to us at the very beginning. I also want to thank E.J. of course, who is not only a great persuader but a brilliant writer at the Washington Post and a very valued leader of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. So let me turn the podium over to E.J. at this time.
E.J. DIONNE: Thank you, Melissa. Melissa has done extraordinary work at the Pew Forum for about a year and a half, and it’s extraordinary how many events, how many projects, how many papers and books she’s presided over, and I can’t thank Melissa or the folks at the Forum enough for all that they have done. And I want to thank Katie for her paper today, today being the first anniversary of the creation of the White House Office that we’re talking about.
I’ve learned, having worked on this issue for a while, that you have to be very careful about language. You have to be very careful about the language that you choose because you want to be true to what people are doing, true to what they believe, and you want to understand where people are coming from.
I recently ran across a wonderful story told by Senator Everett Dirksen, whom many of you remember as a distinguished Republican leader in the Senate who was very good at stories. He spoke about the care you needed to exercise in the choice of language. He talks about a guy who faced a form from an insurance company where they asked him, how did your father die and how old was he. It turned out his dad was hung for a crime, but he didn’t really feel comfortable saying this on the insurance form. So what he said in response is, my father died at the age of 65 because the platform gave out beneath him at a public event. So whenever I’m thinking about the care needed that we need to take in this issue, I try to think of the late Sen. Everett Dirksen’s remarks.
We have a wonderful panel here today, and I particularly want to thank Jim Towey from the White House Office. He is an extraordinary person – in keeping with the tradition of the White House Office. It seems you have to be a registered Democrat to run this office, which he is. I’ll introduce him in a moment, but he’s very busy, having just taken over this office, and it’s very kind of you to come today.
First let me introduce my friend Katie. I was very glad that Melissa pointed out that it was Paul Light’s intercession that connected us with Katie for this paper. It turns out that Katie also was in the same class in college with my wife. That had nothing to do with why she ended up writing this paper, but it’s a blessing for both of us that she is. She is the associate director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Washington semester program. She is currently a guest scholar in governmental studies at Brookings, where she’s conducting an analysis of the increasing use of political consultants as Presidential advisers. That’s not connected to the White House Office, we should say. And she has also worked on this great paper for us. She received her B.A. from Georgetown and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the Unviersity of Virginia. She is the author of “Presidents as Candidates: Inside the White House for the Presidential Campaign.”
Jim Towey was named as deputy assistant to the President and director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives by President Bush just 19 days ago, on February 1, 2002. He founded Aging with Dignity in 1996, after his experiences at Mother Teresa’s homes for the dying, and this work inspired him to promote better care for people facing the end of life. He was legal counsel for 12 years to Mother Teresa. He lived a year as a full-time volunteer in a home for people with AIDS in Washington, D.C. He spent a long time in public service, leading the state of Florida’s health and social service agency, the largest in the United States, and served in the Cabinet of Governor Lawton Chiles — as I point out, a Democrat. Earlier he worked in Washington as legislative director and legal counsel for Senator Mark Hatfield, a Republican. A thoroughly bipartisan person, Jim Towey is. He and his wife Mary and four children live in Washington.
Batting next will be Paul Light. Now those of you who know Paul know that Paul is to the workings of government as John Madden is to the workings of football, or Miles Davis is to understanding jazz. He is the vice President and director of Governmental Studies programs at Brookings. He is director of the Center for Public Service, a senior adviser to the Presidential Appointee Initiative, and he is also the Douglas Dillon chair. Paul wears so many hats that the late Alex Rose, the director of the Hatters Union in New York, would be very grateful to him.
His areas of expertise include bureaucracy, civil service, Congress, entitlement programs. I could go on and on. He received his B.A. from Macalester College, his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. Paul produces books the way most people produce newspaper articles. “Making Nonprofits Work: A Delicate Balance”, “An Introduction to American Government,” “The New Public Service”, and my favorite because I think it bears very much on this is a book called “The Thickening of Government.”
After Paul we are joined by Gregg Ivers. He is professor and chair of the department of government at American University, where he has taught since 1989. He is the author of several books dealing with topics that meet the intersection of law, politics, and society, including “To Build a Wall: American Jews and the Separation of Church and State,” published in 1995. Most recently he is the author of a two-volume case book series in American constitutional law. He has published numerous scholarly articles, and he is currently co-editing a book called “Creating Constitutional Change: People, Power and Law,” which will examine 24 landmark Supreme Court decisions and their impact on law and society.
Again, Katie, thank you for doing this paper, and it’s a great honor to introduce you.
KATHRYN DUNN TENPAS: Thanks very much for coming this afternoon. Thank you to the Pew Forum for hosting this event and to the White House for participating, and to my colleagues on the panel for taking the time to read this report, hopefully. I’m pleased to be here today to talk about the Bush administration’s faith-based initiative. I’ll rewind the tape to a year or so ago when, having read the news on January 30, 2001, I was very intrigued by the prospect of a new White House office. As a Presidential scholar, I live for news articles like this.
I also read the Post from a rather unusual perspective, so rather than take the story for what it’s worth and being impressed that a president had actually followed through on a campaign promise, my first thought was, why did he sign an executive order to set up a White House office? Presidents can create or dismantle any offices they like within the White House without such a formality. What’s behind the executive order?
Fortunately for you all, the news raised another far less arcane question, and hopefully far more interesting. That is, can this office make a difference? President Bush clearly believes that the faith-based initiative could fundamentally change our country. Can it? What happens when the institution of the presidency tries to promote and effectively change social policy?
My studies and analysis revealed some interesting findings. Not only was the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives hampered by classic public administration problems, but injecting the concepts of faith and religion into governing created a whole new set of challenges.
What I’d like to do today is to discuss what I found to be the primary obstacles affecting the office’s successes, and discuss perspectives for the future. As mentioned above, at times the office was hampered by classic organizational problems — shifting priorities, lack of autonomy, the absence of internal White House coordination, and inflated expectations. Let me just touch briefly on these before I move ahead.
Shifting priorities. Though touted as Bush’s top issue, ultimately presidents must prioritize their agenda and their goals. And in the end the faith-based initiative took a back seat to tax cuts and the education accountability proposals. In retrospect, the faith-based initiative proved to be far more controversial than anticipated, prompting White House strategists to shift their focus rather than further deplete their political capital.
Aside from shifting priorities, the OFBCI director suffered from a lack of autonomy that became crystal clear within weeks of his arrival. Assistant to the President John DiIulio lacked budgetary authority, the ability to staff his office with his own colleagues, and the power to develop and execute political strategy. While DiIulio advocated a consensus-building, go-slow approach, House Republicans had already drafted a far-reaching bill and wanted to run with it. Given the Republican majorities on the Hill and the Republican occupancy at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, House Republicans figured that their best chance to pass a comprehensive charitable choice bill was early in the term, giving little regard to the DiIulio approach.
Relatedly, there was no internal coordination. Creating a separate White House office for domestic policy issues ultimately led to its isolation. Typically in the case of a presidential priority, legislative affairs, communications, public liaison, and possibly political affairs would coordinate their efforts to ensure the likelihood of passage. At DiIulio’s first hearing on Capitol Hill, no one from the legislative affairs office was in attendance. Even congressional Republicans were surprised by the lack of energy coming from the White House office of legislative affairs.
Lastly, the perils of inflated expectations. Presidential campaign promises fostered hopes for a White House office that could do most anything. A Web site reported that this new office will remove all barriers. In a campaign speech in July 2000, Candidate Bush referred to church-run programs, stating, wherever we can, we must expand their role and their reach.
For those outside the Washington community, the establishment of a faith-based office encouraged numerous phone inquiries. Much to the chagrin of the OFBCI interns, the phones were ringing off the hook with eager requests for money, and frustration when told that they would not be receiving a check in the mail.
Beyond these institutional challenges likely to confront any policy-based office, there were unique problems associated with charitable choice and administration missteps led to an explosion of negative press coverage, leadership issues and unforeseen tragedies that worked in concert to undermine their best efforts. Of these new challenges, perhaps the most formidable was that there was no natural coalition for H.R. 7, the Community Solutions Act of 2001.
Criticism emanated from both the left and the right. The opposition was so broad as to defy generalization. For example, while those who favor the separation of church and state declared H.R. 7 unconstitutional, conservative Christians feared that government involvement would cause waste and corruption, and civil rights groups thought that it would lead to employment discrimination. At the same time, a number of religious organizations believed that government intrusion would potentially hinder their efforts. In short, as one observer noted, it lacked “a constituency committed to its success, and because every move the administration makes to appease the idea’s opponents weakens support from its likely allies.” But apart from these obstacles, the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives managed to score some important successes, one of which was conducting a five-agency audit in less than six months and having the foresight not to hire Arthur Andersen to conduct that audit.
The Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives clearly can be credited with sparking debate about an issue that had been on the books for almost five years, but had lain dormant. And finally, they can be credited with the passage of H.R. 7, despite all the opposition. However, I believe that the most significant and the most important achievement is what I call the under-the-radar coup. Oddly enough, the disproportionate attention focused on H.R. 7 overlooked what I think may be the most important success of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and that is the five Cabinet-based centers that promote and assist with implementation. H.R. 7 aside, the charitable choice provisions currently exist in four separate public laws, providing ample opportunity for the administration to work within the departments to encourage faith-based organizations to participate.
In the long run, the most profound impact will lie in the rewriting of hundreds of regulations that will shift the flow of federal funds to religious groups. Not only has this quiet coup managed to avoid media coverage and the associated controversy, but it’s difficult for people like me to track, or even quantify its progress, no doubt further facilitating its success.
At this point a little Monday morning quarterbacking is clearly in order. It’s worth speculating about what might have happened had the Bush team not pursued the bold and momentous approach of signing two executive orders and showcasing the faith-based initiative during the second week of the administration. In retrospect, the go-slow, moderate, consensus-building approach certainly has its merits. Alternatively, would John DiIulio and his staff have been better served if the issue was promoted from within the Domestic Policy Council, allowing for a less visible but nevertheless effective promotional effort? We’ll never know the answers, but contemplating the first year experience might prove useful as staffers gear up for year two.
So what about the future? As many of you may recall, President Bush announced in his State of the Union address an ambitious new volunteer program, the USA Freedom Corps, thereby creating another White House entity, this time to oversee national service initiatives. This office, run by senior domestic advisor John Bridgeland, includes oversight of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. One news report claimed that the link to the USA Freedom Corps might resuscitate the office’s efforts to boost charities. In fact, some expect that the integration of national service with the faith-based initiative will shift OFBCI’s focus from primarily assisting religious charities to volunteerism.
These new developments, in combination with the new appointment of Jim Towey to run the office, suggests that year two will be dramatically different from year one. Towey will be instrumental in adapting to the office’s changing mission, overseeing the legislative battle between the Senate and House versions of the faith-based bill.
In closing, it’s important to revisit the central question: Can an office change a country? Looking back on the first year, it is clear that doing business in the White House is fraught with peril. It may well be that creating a White House office to advance a specific policy initiative is simply not a good idea, both because of obstacles that are endemic to the presidency and those associated with the controversial faith-based initiative. But it’s simply too soon to render a judgment.
Much about the Office has changed, particularly in the past few weeks, and the President and his staff would be wise to heed the lessons of the first year, taking into account the perils of policymaking and promotion as they carve out a new role in the second year of life.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you. Now that he knows what he’s up against, Jim Towey will graciously join us. Jim?
JIM TOWEY: Well, first of all, E.J., thank you for the nice introduction and for inviting me, along with my friends at the Pew Forum. It’s a great honor to be here with this distinguished panel to hear Katie’s report. And it’s great to meet E.J.
I sure want to get off on the right foot with E.J. and with the Washington Post, but at the same time hold my ground and not grovel. So having said that, let me take the opportunity to suggest you buy E.J.’s book. He has a new book out which should be a best-seller, at least in my view.
I’m grateful to Katie for her report. What caught my eye on it — how many of you have read the report? I don’t know how many advance copies are out there. Just to give you a little primer on it, I got this yesterday. “Section two – Advancing Policy Preferences through the Institutional Presidency: Endogenous and Exogenous Obstacles.”
MS. TENPAS: I have to stick to my reputation.
MR. TOWEY: Where’s John DiIulio when you need him?
I just want to make clear that President Bush has a long-standing record opposing exogenous obstacles. The endogenous ones, they’re polite, that’s different.
Katie mentioned in her remarks that doing business in the White House is fraught with peril, and E.J. pointed out I’ve been on the job 19 days. I started with a full head of black hair. It’s a pressure job.
I do want to say a few words about John DiIulio, my predecessor, who spent much of the first year directing the President’s faith-based office. It’s a privilege to follow in his footsteps. He’s got big shoes to fill, literally, for me. I think John was a pioneer and a visionary and I respect greatly his work. There’s a proverb that says one generation plants a tree and another gets the shade. A lot of the work that was done in the faith-based office this first year was work that was plowing the field and sowing seeds and laboring in very difficult circumstances, and as Katie’s report has pointed out, they had notable successes. It was a very organic environment in which they worked, not only as she mentioned, the changing political landscape, but also the momentous events of September 11th. These were occurrences which greatly shaped the first year of the faith-based office.
I think it’s a real tribute to John DiIulio and to the fine staff that work in the Office for what was accomplished, not only in the work that the five centers are doing. I leave this gathering to go meet with Secretary Chao at Labor because I think she’s right in saying that there’s a great promise for what can be done to better explain the laws and regulations dealing with how faith-based and community organizations work with the federal government.
I went to the Supreme Court this morning and heard the arguments in a very important First Amendment case that looked at the establishment clause and school vouchers. It’s evident to me in just the first few weeks that I’ve been on this job that there’s going to be an ongoing and continuous debate, and really a dynamic tension between questions of religious liberty and the establishment clause and civil rights and how do we address the needs of people who are in need of care or help.
The case this morning looked at Cleveland’s efforts to improve their schools so that children stuck in failing inner city schools would have some options, some choices. Really, I think what it was most about was some hope – that they would have some hope. What’s fundamental, I think, about President Bush’s vision for the faith-based initiative and for this office is his belief that there must be hope for those who are in need of care, for our abandoned and our abused, for people who are addicted, the people that often have found very little choices and options in their own community in the way of services.
The President’s initiative is about providing equal treatment, a level playing field. Probably the most important contribution the office made in its first year was its “Unlevel Playing Field” report, which Katie cited, which was done in six months, as she said. It pointed out the fact that there are real world barriers to the fair participation of faith-based organizations in programs that the federal government funds. The federal government has a sincere and important interest in seeing that the needs of citizens who are hurting are addressed, and why not look at organizations who have proven track records, who have special capability of providing this service.
I think my job is to return this debate back to why the Office exists in the first place, which is for compassion to be rendered toward those who are hurting in our society. The President’s compassion agenda is about working with the poor and finding the best way to meet their needs, and the President wishes to welcome into that endeavor all organizations so that they compete equally and fairly for federal dollars.
When the debate is centered on the needs of the poor and of the urgency of tending to those needs, we find that a lot of the political quagmire and the partisan politics and some of the other issues can give way to this urgency which unites Americans, and which is the reason the President established the Office in the first place.
I feel that the need for the Office is greater today than it was when the President first established it. His support for the Office is unflinching and steadfast. When he appointed me on February 1st, one of the bravest things he did was he invited my boys under the age of 9 into the front row because I was expecting them the whole time to stand up and start fighting in front of the President. Then I would have needed an economic stimulus package.
But when he introduced me he had note cards which he proceeded to ignore, and he spoke from his heart. Our office is not big, it does not have a lot of staff, it does not have a lot of budget. What it does have, though, is an urgent task and an important task, which of its own will, I believe, drive it to success in the coming years. It also has a special place in the President’s heart. He believes in this compassion agenda of his, and in seeing that faith-based and other community organizations are enlisted in this urgent task of addressing the unmet needs of our poor.
So it’s a privilege for me to be in this position. I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have this job, and I will look forward to working with many of you. I’m also looking forward to other reports today and feedback on year one. Thank you very much.
MR. DIONNE: I want to thank Jim Towey. Senator George Smathers of Florida once accused an opponent of having a sister who was a thespian, and I want to make clear that Katie meant no harm in accusing the Office of having exogenous factors in place. I also want to tell Jim that the Bush administration can be grateful that I don’t speak for the Washington Post, so we can withdraw the plug for the book.
More seriously, I’m grateful for his comments on John DiIulio, who is a friend of many of ours, who has a big brain, a big heart, a graceful pen, and a great sense of humor which allowed him to survive his time in Washington. I think Jim Towey has one too.
Next I call on our John Madden, Paul Light.
PAUL LIGHT: It’s very nice to get that introduction from E.J. Several years ago I was in Boston and I stopped at Boston’s Books for a Buck. I’ve told some people this story before. And I found one of my books at Books for a Buck, which is like Books A Million, one of these big remainder outlets. And it’s not a bad thing. Of course E.J.’s books never make it there. It’s not a bad thing for an author to find one of his or her books at Books for a Buck. That shows you that your publisher still has hope. I mean, at least they’re not recycling the thing. But I saw a book that I wrote on a table at Books for a Buck in Boston marked “make us an offer,” which was a very sobering moment.
The book that E.J. really should refer to is “The True Size of Government” because, contrary to Katie’s view, we will know who’s working under federal grants and contracts in the faith-based sector. We will be able to track them. The federal awards data system and the federal procurement data system will allow us to find out who’s doing what, under what conditions.
We are going to count the number of people who work in faith-based organizations as part of Uncle Sam. Anybody who takes a grant or a contract from the federal government, anybody who works for state and local government under mandates — and we’ve got the mother of all mandates in the education bill in terms of teacher testing — we count those people as part of the true size of government. Just as we held Vice President Gore up to that standard and said you cannot claim that the era of big government is over by contracting out jobs that used to be in-house, we’ll know where the jobs are going and we’ll know five years from now whether or not in fact the faith-based contracting and grant initiative, how much of that money actually made it to the small organizations that John and the office talked so powerfully about last summer.
Smallness hurts both nonprofits and faith-based organizations. I think the Office could do some wonderful work on leveling the playing field for both sides of the compassionate sector, which includes nonprofit 501(c)3’s as well as faith-based organizations. Why is it that the big guns always get the money? I mean, why is it that if you’re a (c)3 and you happen to be over $100 million you’re going to get most of the federal dollars, and if you’re a faith-based organization and you’re going to be over $100 million, you know where the money’s going to go. How do you level the playing field so that the small organizations get there?
I was going to talk briefly about this office and compare it to the Office of Homeland Security, but that’s not fair. The Office of Homeland Security is a line office of government. There is a strong line coordinating function there, and I believe the office is underpowered for its task. It does not have authority over things that matter to agencies, and therefore it does not matter to agencies because it has nothing to give that matters to agencies, meaning budget or head count. That is not the role of this faith-based office. It’s staffed to the President. It’s advisory to the President.
I like Katie’s analysis. We could go through whether or not this is the right way to develop policy. This office will disappear in the next administration unless it’s another Bush administration. And if it’s Jeb Bush in 2009, I don’t know whether he’ll keep it or get rid of it. There is a long distinguished history of presidents creating offices like the National Economic Council and getting rid of them, the domestic policy staff and the domestic council and getting rid of them in the next administration, and I suspect that the next president will evaluate as to whether or not this is a useful office to keep.
I wanted to talk just briefly and lay some questions on the table about what I believe is the agenda that needs to be addressed in the near term by this office and the office dealing with volunteerism. So let me just lay out six questions for you all and we can talk perhaps about them or not.
The first question I think that this office needs to address is how can voluntary organizations – be they faith-based or 501(c)3 – be strengthened as destinations for federal funding? There is a capacity building crisis in the nonprofit sector right now, many organizations unable to absorb the large amounts of funding that they received post-September 11th, other organizations withering and being winnowed. I think that we have ample evidence that there is not good organizational capacity out there on either side of the voluntary sector, and I think the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives has to get involved in the basic issues of strengthening organizational capacity. It is the single most powerful conversation underway right now in the (c)3 side of the voluntary sector — how do we build organizations that can achieve a sustained excellence.
Secondly, how can voluntary organizations be strengthened as destinations for volunteers? I note that the President called on us to volunteer 4,000 hours over our lifetime. I think it’s a noble goal. I don’t think most volunteers have a clue where to go. We don’t have good systems in place at the local level for helping people figure out destinations that fit as they volunteer, and this is a second place where the office could be involved, particularly working with community foundations.
Number three, how can voluntary organizations be protected against the effects of federal funding? You take that federal dollar, it does something to your organization. It just does. We spent a lot of time talking with nonprofits. The minute you take a federal dollar, you expose yourself to a series of requirements and ordinances and accounting systems, and for the faith-based sector to end up spending more than an eyedropper amount of its time and energy on these systems seems to me to be a tragedy. Now how we can de-layer these systems so that both sides of the voluntary sector have a level playing field, I don’t know.
Number four, how can smaller voluntary organizations be given a chance to participate? Leveling the playing field means that when we let the faith-based organization in that we don’t just have the $800 million — or I should say $1.5 billion organization coming in and creaming all of the activity. I think there’s some risk of that occurring, as we saw in the debate. There was a reason why the big faith-based organizations want access to federal grants. It’s because there’s a lot of largess there, and we’ve got to figure out a way to help the small organizations.
Number five, how do we make the sum of the sector greater than its parts. One of the big issues in the nonprofit sector right now is how to reduce duplication and overlap. I can’t tell you how many times I hear people talking about the need to reduce this overlap, get different organizations to come together. The big dialogue in the nonprofit sector is how to eliminate duplication and overlap. That’s got to be part of the dialogue with faith-based.
Finally, how can government be protected against faith-based organizations? I think that’s something that John struggled with. I think that was something that was in the headlines regarding the Salvation Army’s conversation with the White House last spring, and it’s something that we have to put on the table.
I wish you the very best of luck on this job. I think that this kind of conversation right now at this moment in time is particularly helpful if we talk about organizational capacity because these organizations are desperate right now to be able to handle the surge of energy and compassion that I believe actually exists out there. Thanks a lot.
MR. DIONNE: Listening to Paul talk about monitoring all those grants made me think that Jim Towey will be able to leave with a song in his heart. It would go something like, every grant you make, every step you take, every job you’ve made, Paul will be watching you.
Gregg, thank you so much for joining us.
GREGG IVERS: Well, let me first extend my thanks to the Pew Forum, and specifically my old friend Melissa Rogers for inviting me down here to be on such a great panel. It’s really nice to meet people whose work I’ve read through the years, whose books I’ve assigned in my classes, and it’s nice to actually put a name to the face and see all this sort of come together.
I also want to thank E.J. for his reference to Miles Davis at the beginning of his remarks. Because I came down here with one set of remarks, but in listening to the way the conversation’s been going, I’m going to improvise on a theme and then move in an entirely different direction and hope I still make sense. So I’m going to try somewhere between the boundaries of Coleman over here and Duke Ellington over here, and hope that people can still understand me.
What I’ve heard people talk about for the most part is policy analysis, how groups will or won’t have access, and then the assumed position of what the White House is doing is good. I think we should put that last question on the table at some point, that whether or not what the White House is doing is actually good, whether the idea of an office of faith-based initiatives is a good thing, why it’s called the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, and not the Office of Religion-Based Initiatives are some questions I think we have to ask ourselves.
Where I want to go in my remarks is to talk about how rhetorically we got to this point. One of the things I think about is that if we were having this same panel 30 years ago, would we even be talking about whether or not there would be a constitutional foundation for a direct public policy initiative on the part of the executive branch to aid religious organizations as well as non-religious organizations? Would we be talking about a program that is designed to reach out and bring religious organizations into the fold of government policymaking as an exercise in neutrality, as an exercise in equality, or would we be looking at it as an exercise in government-sponsored favoritism?
Rhetorically, the argument for the kinds of things that people are talking about now began about 10 years ago when conservative religious organizations began to take a cue from many of their liberal counterparts and get much more invested in legislative politics, and specifically the courts. One of the things you’ll notice if you analyze the participation of religious organizations in law and in politics is that really until the early 1980s there wasn’t a lot of activity from groups we now define as conservative, either politically or religiously. If we think about the way the law and the rhetoric changed in the 1950s and 60s and 70s, these debates were defined primarily by the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Jewish Congress, other mainline Jewish organizations, the Baptist Joint Committee, the National Council of Churches and the like. My point is that the debate was dominated by moderate to liberal organizations that were consistent in trying to make the argument to the Court on separation questions, disestablishment questions, and then even free exercise questions.
In the early 1980s, emboldened by President Reagan’s outreach to conservative religious and political activists, we start to see a much more detailed level of involvement from religious organizations in public policymaking, and specifically into the courts, for as one-time liberals might sponsor cases or file friend of the court briefs in key cases involving the distribution of federal funds to private education, prayer and other issues pertaining to the establishment clause. In the early 1980s, you can go back and start to see how this environment becomes much more plural and contentious, that conservative organizations such as the Christian Legal Society, the Rutherford Institute, the National Association of Evangelicals, and then in the last 10 years even more, such as the American Center for Law and Justice have now been active participants in the litigation process more involved in grassroots politics, more involved in trying to shape how people talk about the kinds of things that we’re talking about today.
One of the things that we can’t discount is how important rhetoric is and how we talk about policy because one of the things we have to step back and take a look at before we talk about policy is how policy gets defined rhetorically. And more often than not, that definition comes through decisions by the Supreme Court, at least in this particular area. Today’s case is an example that might come up in our discussion afterwards, but the entire debate that has been carried on in the last five to seven years more intensely. And then I would suggest really since the late 80s and early 90s has been fueled by a series of Supreme Court decisions that have sought to step away, quite consciously from the strict separation principle into something that now people loosely talk about as neutrality or equality, or equal access.
It began with a series of cases about the right of student organizations to meet in the public schools if the schools let other organizations meet as well. That seemed to be pretty harmless at the time. In fact, the Equal Access Act enjoyed broad support in both houses of Congress when it was debated in the late 1980s, and it was codified further in a series of Supreme Court decisions in the early 1990s, and even on up through the recent years. The idea was that if you didn’t let students with interest in religion – whether it was simply more plural, more societal-directed, or even more religiously directed – to meet in the public schools that you were allowing other student groups to meet, what were you doing? You were discriminating against religion.
So we see the introduction of a very powerful word – discrimination. And we define discrimination against whom? Religious groups and religious organizations, something very difficult to defend. You can step back on the one hand and say, we believe in the principle of church-state separation, we believe in the principle of religious liberty, but absolutely not, we don’t believe in the principle of discriminating against religious students or religious organizations. It becomes a very difficult argument to contest, logic notwithstanding.
After these victories, the debate starts to move to a different area, and that is funding for religiously affiliated groups, whether or not indirect aid from the government to religiously affiliated groups is constitutional, and what kinds of arguments you see cropping up in the lawyers’ briefs. If we can give money to some schools, we should be able to give money to all schools or else you’re discriminating against religious schools, religiously affiliated groups, and so forth.
A key transition moment comes in 1995 in the case that happened just down the road in Charlottesville, Virginia, a case involving a student publication that was denied funding and claimed that it was being discriminated against because its message was religious and evangelical in nature. When the Supreme Court heard this case, Rosenberger v. Virginia, the arguments were very interesting. One side was essentially arguing that this was about discrimination against a viewpoint, and that viewpoint was religious, and since the University funded a host of different viewpoints and student organizations, could it legitimately withhold funds from a group that was religious?
The other side was arguing something differently, and they were arguing that by taking student funds from a public institution and transferring them to a student group that was promoting the word, this was a direct subsidy of a religious organization. And reading the opinion of the Court, which was badly split, 5-4, the majority opinion was all about equal access, and the minority opinion was all about funding. It was at that point that you started to see David Souter emerge as a key and perhaps the most powerful defender of what we might call the old separation principle, and we start to see Justices Kennedy and O’Connor become even more articulate advocates for what we might call the neutrality or equality principle, stepping into the middle, seeing as how Justices Scalia and Thomas were occupying a much more aggressive ground, trying to get the Court to rethink lots of different questions.
You had O’Connor and Kennedy in the middle saying, wait a minute. This is about discrimination against religion, about withdrawing money from people who simply want to spread words that people find to be inconsistent with their own religious beliefs, but lots of things that are said on college campuses, and not just in classrooms, are inconsistent with lots of peoples’ beliefs. Isn’t this part of the marketplace of ideas? Drawing upon a skeptic such as Oliver Wendell Holmes to introduce the idea that everyone should have access to the marketplace of ideas.
In the last several years there have been important cases argued and decided in the Court, including the one this morning, that dealt with the idea of public funds for parochial institutions. What had been the key arguments in those cases? That if you don’t allow religious schools or religious institutions to get what everybody else is getting, you’re discriminating against religion. So very effectively the groups that have been active in moving these cases through the federal courts, supporting them with briefs, trying to address the questions such as these have been extraordinarily successful in persuading people that an argument that was once seen as solely about government support for religion is now an argument fundamentally about the equal protection clause. If you withhold from one, can you withhold from the other.
So there have been references from some of the panelists to civil rights and religious liberties being a tension, and that tension exists because people who were once outliers in this entire debate have now really become the driving force in defining the terms that we use rhetorically. Let me now talk about how that plays into what we’re talking about right now.
The assumption from listening to the panel is that this, at least for the next three and a half years or so, is going to be an institutionalized operation. What that suggests to me is that we have accepted the idea that there is nothing wrong with the government becoming actively involved in promoting the mission of religious charities. Now the irony is quite interesting because 25 and 30 years ago there was a great deal of tension between Catholic and Protestant organizations about when and where to get involved in government arguments about religion. Catholic organizations were okay with supporting efforts to aid schools if money was going to other places and to bring charities in line with other nonprofit groups, but weren’t terribly passionate about the school prayer debate and those sorts of things. Where Protestant organizations were very concerned with issues like public funds for parochial schools because they weren’t sure what this was about and who was pulling the political strings and why people were getting money, and the fact that the overwhelming majority, well over 90 percent of parochial schools in this country were operated by the Catholic church suggested to them that this was really about a political hodgepodge for Catholics.
Luckily I think a lot of those debates have been put aside. People think less in prejudicial terms than they used to about the motives of people in seeking out federal funds, and now we’re really talking about broader, more abstract questions. One of the questions we have to think about is whether or not it still is a good thing for religious organizations to be this intimately tied to government.
Paul mentioned in his remarks that when people began to take money from the government, there is no escaping the fact that the relationship is going to change. I think anybody who has ever been involved in the grant process, whether as an academic, as the leader of a nonprofit or whatever it is, knows that as soon as you sign on the dotted line to comply with the conditions of that grant, lots of things may get compromised along the way. Not in a way that may put into doubt the entire purpose of your mission, but may force you to make choices that you otherwise would not make if you were free to spend the money on your own.
One of the ironies of this is that I think we can all recall under the first Bush administration there was a great deal of concern about government giving money to artists to do things that people found offensive, and the argument was, it’s not a First Amendment question because it’s not about whether artists have the right to roll in chocolate and scream and yell or throw mud against the wall and yell expletives while they do it. If they want to go somewhere and rent a warehouse and call their friends and engage in deconstructivist-constructivist policy analysis, endogenous or exogenous, whatever it might be, they’re free to do so, but the government doesn’t have to pay for it.
My guess is that many of the same people who are uncomfortable with the funding of profane art are not uncomfortable at all with the funding of religious organizations because they see a substantive difference in the mission. But the fact remains that government is giving money to groups not officially tied to the government, and rather than assuming that this is a good thing, which may or may not expire as administrations come and go, I’d like us to see if we could just a little bit talk about whether or not the fundamental idea of a relationship between the executive branch and religious organizations in a much more direct way than has ever been done before is a good thing.
MR. DIONNE: I thank Gregg very much, especially for that sense of history and for his last comments on the federal arts programs. My friend Peggy Steinfels said, is it the case that the only way the government can finance a crucifix is if it’s dipped in a jar of urine. And I ask that question because I think it is serious. It goes at the heart of this debate.
I want to first ask the panelists if they would like to reply to each other at all, and then I want to invite the audience to join in at any point.
MS. TENPAS: Jim referred to the part of my report on endogenous and exogenous variables. I just hope he didn’t miss the exciting parts on the lack of autonomy, institutional challenges, internal coordination, and presidential resources.
MR. DIONNE: Jim, do you want to reply to Gregg or Paul or Katie?
MR. TOWEY: Starting with what Gregg just said, I think we have to be really clear about this, I heard repeatedly, funding of religious organizations. That’s certainly not what the President’s intent is with his faith-based initiative, any more than the Little Sisters of the Poor, or the Hebrew Home for the Aged nursing home is funded by the federal government because it happens to receive Medicaid payments for the care of the indigent elderly.
The whole focus of the funding question is not to the religious organization, but to the people they serve, and I think that merits repetition over and over again, that the initiative’s focus is not on who the recipient is but on the quality of services that can be rendered to those who are indigent, or those who are in serious need of service. If that happens to be a faith-based organization or a grassroots organization or a governmental organization, I think the debate is trying to return to the question of who can do it best from the standpoint of the recipient of the service.
What I heard in the Supreme Court today was the discussion about the plight of these kids that were stuck in these inner city schools and someone dared to question, can there be an alternative? We’ve tried now for years and years, the system’s not improving, what can be done. You see Chuck Colson’s work, very fine man. Why is he doing what he does? Well, because the recidivism rate in our nation is a scandal and we spend billions of dollars incarcerating people who return to the streets and commit crimes again. So the idea came up within his own heart that maybe there would be another approach that might work that would reduce recidivism and restore these people to a meaningful relationship with society.
It just brings to mind that again the initiative’s focus is about not funding religion, not funding religious belief or practice. That is not anything the President wants to do. Nor is it constitutional. That would be a violation of the establishment clause and it’s never been anything the President has proposed. I don’t think Gregg was suggesting this is what the President is proposing, but I just want to clarify it. The President’s initiative is simply focusing on how we can compassionately respond to these urgent needs of our poor, and who are the organizations best situated to do that.
I also wanted to say very briefly, I think Paul made some very good points about strengthening capacity, about the need to coordinate volunteerism. There’s no question that you can’t sound the battle cry and then not have an effective means of channeling all that enthusiasm and energy. The work that John Bridgeland is going to do with the Freedom Corps is exciting to me, but that’s one of his first challenges, is again to have the capacity and make sure that the different organizations, the Peace Corps and Citizen Corps and others that he’ll be overseeing as a part of this office are able to respond to the interests and the public.
Federal dollars changing organizations? It’s possible. Organizations can refuse the money, of course, and I think a lot of them have to make a decision about whether receipt of federal money is consistent with their mission statement and their own vision, whether to them it would be violative of their own religious identity. No one wants to see any of them sacrifice conscienced beliefs. So the question of whether they receive it or not is a choice an organization will make, and it could change them and it may not. I’ve seen small organizations, of course, if they don’t have the capacity and the internal ability to respond to a huge bureaucracy can feel very intimidated and say I don’t even want to apply. The President has proposed technical assistance to help small organizations interface with the government.
In terms of the past, Katie, and the obstacles that were addressed, I have the benefit of coming brand-new to the organization so I prefer more the analysis portion than the blame issue. We can always look back and say, oh, maybe if we had done this instead of this, it might have been different. I think that some of this was inevitable in a very dynamic process where the President was blazing a trail with a brand-new office and some of this was going to occur. I think we’ve learned from a lot of things, and your report I think is accurately stated in many places, things that we need to address so that those don’t occur again.
I feel excited that we’re heading forward. There’s movement. The House passed a bill, the Senate’s got a bill moving, and so I have a lot of hope for the initiative. And like you said, I think there’s a lot of promise in what the agencies will be able to do.
MR. DIONNE: Before I turn to the audience, I want to just throw two questions on the table for Katie, Jim, Paul and Gregg. The first is what you could call a dumb question. I like dumb questions. You can ask this question from either side. The fact is that a lot of government money has flowed for a very long time through religiously affiliated organizations – Catholic Charities, Lutheran Services, and Jewish Federations. So the question is, from the one side what’s all the fuss about here, asking, if you will, from the conservative side, why is this so controversial. Or you could ask it from the other side and say, why do we need all of these new initiatives, when there already has been an enormous amount of government support flowing without people raising constitutional questions to these other groups.
The second question I’d like to put on the table, and people can sort of evade it because I do want to get to the audience. Katie talks about this in the paper. What came out in the first phase of this is a real debate about what you might call a conflict of conflicting rights. On the one side, the right of individuals not to be discriminated against by organizations that receive federal money and on the other side, the right of those organizations to retain what they see as their own integrity in terms of their views. It seems that the clash of those rights I think is very hard to resolve, and one of the reasons why that issue exploded when it appeared on the front page of the Washington Post. I’d just like to put those on the table for people to respond to.
MR. TOWEY: I’ve had a hard time understanding what all this shock was about the fact that people were saying, wait a minute, there’s separation of church and state. Whenever I hear that expression, it becomes a real electric issue, when the fact is Salvation Army’s been receiving hundreds of millions of dollars for years to provide desperately needed services in neighborhoods that no one would go. I don’t know how to answer that question either, E.J., because it seems to me that this is something that’s been going on for quite some time.
I mentioned an example of Medicaid nursing homes that are faith-based nursing homes that have religious iconography on the walls and have been operating for 20, 30 years, and are funded almost entirely by federal and state dollars.
MR. DIONNE: Let me flip it around and make it a harder question. Why then do we even need a faith-based initiative, given that all this money was already flowing to all these organizations?
MR. TOWEY: Because I think as the audit report revealed in August when it was released, there are serious barriers, real-world barriers that are in place that prevent many faith-based organizations from doing more. In the meantime we have many populations who are under-served and who have their needs going unmet. So I think that part of the President’s initiative was to focus attention on having equal treatment and an equal playing field.
Neutrality is another word that I think that the President’s been very supportive of. It’s not to give an advantage, but it’s simply to say that some organizations who are best capable, and in some inner city areas there’s only a church there that anyone will trust to provide for certain services, and yet they’ve been excluded from even being considered if they have a shelter because their board of directors might have a requirement that the members of the board of directors have a certain faith. Well, that shouldn’t be a barrier, and I think the Senate legislation shows this. That shouldn’t be a barrier to an organization being able to provide homeless services, provided that they’re not using federal dollars to promote religion, religious beliefs, and that they’re providing a good service and that they’re going to be accountable for the money.
I think the office exists because there are real barriers and because there are also real opportunities for greater service so that there can be more compassion in our country.
MR. LIGHT: You know, it’s not a big deal to become a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization. We could all become one. We could probably become one by the end of early summer and it wouldn’t be very expensive. We could file for tax-exempt status and one of the questions that is asked of the faith-based organizations is, if you want to play, just become a 501(c)3.
But there’s a little bit of firewall effect here. There is a little bit of a firewall in that you can’t take federal money and you can’t use Medicaid money to do certain things. You have to agree to obey certain laws. You cannot discriminate in your hiring process if you take a federal dollar. You can’t say to someone when they’re sitting in your office, well, are you gay? Or are you Catholic? You could get yourself into a whole pack of trouble.
You want to go into that? I’m mindful of talking to my colleague here in the front row. If you can do it now under (c)3 status, tell me why not them. Why are faith-based organizations not filing in droves for (c)3 status? Is it because it’s so difficult? Is that what’s the barrier, it’s so hard to fill out this paperwork? Well, welcome to the rules when you start taking federal grants. I mean, you want a pack of rules. Why aren’t more faith-based organizations lining up to be (c)3s? Catholic charities has a division that does take federal funding, but it has other divisions which are engaged in perfectly wonderful work.
I thought the whole point with Chuck Colson was that he wanted to be explicit about religion, but that’s part of his being, that’s part of his program. He doesn’t want to be governed by rules that say you can’t talk about religion.
MR. TOWEY: Sure, and he gets tax dollars. Whenever you have large issues such as civil rights questions, religious liberty questions, it’s going to spark a very volatile debate. I just think it’s inevitable, and I think it’s also going to recur year after year. What our hope is that in the midst of these very important questions and debates we don’t lose sight of what the reason is for the faith-based initiative office to begin with, which is to provide better services to those in need, who have chronic needs that are going unmet.
MR. LIGHT: Can somebody here in the audience or you just answer this question about why faith-based organizations don’t file for (c)3 tax-exempt status?
MR. TOWEY: Well, a lot do. I don’t know that that’s a fair characterization of why they do or don’t. I’m happy to yield to E.J.
MR. DIONNE: Just to ask a question. I want to turn to the audience. I want Paul to press that question as we go. Doesn’t the Senate bill have language to make it easier to file for 501(c)3?
MR. TOWEY: There are provisions in the Senate legislation to make it easier to do it, but your question isn’t that the process is difficult. Your question is that people are choosing not to do it for other reasons.
MR. LIGHT: Is that the case, yes.
MR. DIONNE: There’s a hand in the back there. Yes?
VERONIQUE PLUVIOUSE-FENTON: Hi. I’m principal legislative counsel with the National League of Cities. My question had a lot to do with the point that Gregg Ivers raised, and that is the equal opportunity concerns that come up. Local governments are the ones who are going to have to administer these and cities of all sizes are already recognizing, regardless of what the decision that our city council member makes, we are going to get sued. We’re going to get sued whether we give a grant, we’re going to get sued if we deny a grant. We’re going to get sued because of who we gave the grant to, and we’re also going to get sued by the individual who got annoyed because they got placed in a program that they found offensive to their faith, or if they didn’t have a faith, a particular identified faith.
And my question as it relates to the other equal opportunity angle is, why the insistence by the administration to include language both in the House and to a certain extent in the Senate version, although less arduously so, to provide certain kind of exemptions for these NGO’s in the Senate version from complying with state and local rules. If the secular entity that is also performing that same service and receiving funding from that same source — that is, the federal government — has to comply with these state and local contract laws?
MR. TOWEY: What provision are you referring to in the Senate bill?
MS. PLUVIOUSE-FENTON: That deals with the EEO requirement, is what we’re calling it, as it relates to the board, who can sit on the board.
MR. TOWEY: Membership on the board? Why would they allow a board to have certain board membership requirements? Well, for a faith-based organization it goes to the question of their own religious identity and mission, that the very effectiveness of their program often is derived from their own shared vision and mission and the minute you dilute that and say to a group, if it’s the Hebrew Home for the Aged, that you have to have other faiths and other groups on your board of directors, there’s a real serious concern that the effectiveness of their programs will be diminished. So the very thing that’s responsible for their success would erode.
I think that’s the thinking behind it, is that you don’t want to have these organizations sacrifice their identity and mission for the sake of delivering services that the federal government needs to have delivered.
MS. PLUVIOUSE-FENTON: Why then impose that kind of requirement? We have to do the same thing as secular institutions, and I guess —
MR. TOWEY: What is it that you’re doing with secular institutions?
MS. PLUVIOUSE-FENTON: We have EEO requirements. They’re not necessarily that it’s just for religious. And the language is —
MR. TOWEY: I don’t think the Senate bill is exempting groups. I don’t know. I’d have to check the language of the bill, but I don’t think it does that. It’s simply an effort —
MS. PLUVIOUSE-FENTON: — an exemption on that ground, and my concern is, why treat the secular groups any different from complying with state and local laws than you would with the faith-based institutions that are receiving the same funding? And if this bill is going into conference with the House bill, the House bill does a whole lot more in a very damaging way than what the Senate bill proposes to do.
I understand the Senate [bill] is a great compromise, but you need to understand that the House bill goes way, way further than that. And that gets us into very hot water and we don’t know, representing the cities, how we’re going to get out of this mess.
MR. DIONNE: Do you want to reply to that last comment?
MR. TOWEY: I probably need to get some insurance because I’ll get sued, but you know, I think that the President’s excited that there’s a broad array of Democrats and Republicans who joined him in the Oval Office on February 6th and supported the CARE Act, which has been introduced to address not only the charity crisis but also some of the issues that we’ve discussed here at this forum. The House has passed a bill, we’re just anxious to get the Senate moving and then we’ll deal with the end game. But it seems to me that she raises important questions. That’s why I feel I had a chance to sit down with Representative Bobby Scott and a couple of people that are on the other end of the debate, and other voices.
I think it’s important we trust that Americans approach these issues with seriousness and care about their country, and we can have a very civil debate, even if we disagree on how to achieve certain goals in addressing the needs of the poor. I’ll certainly look at the Senate bill language. I’m not of the opinion that what she’s saying is the language in the Senate bill, but I want to double-check it.
Unfortunately, E.J., I’ve got to be at a 3 o’clock, so I think you all know I have to leave at 2:45. I apologize for having to leave a little early. I wanted to say that I enjoyed very much being on a panel with you. Are you going to do this every year or what?
MR. DIONNE: We’ll send you the transcript of all the things we say about you after you leave. Thank you so much for joining us. (Applause)
There was a hand over here. I don’t want to lose Paul’s 501(c)3 question. Incidentally, to the lady back there, John DiIulio came to one of our earliest events and said a wonderful thing. He looked out at the audience and said, if you don’t like this, please sue me because in America unless we bring something to court, we don’t really care about it and I want you to care about this stuff. So sue me, John said.
DAN SCHULDER: I’m a refugee of the 60s and 70s as a federal bureaucrat. It was a time when money was rolling in and rolling out. The federal government was supporting a lot of efforts. I used to make grants very regularly to people like the Catholic diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, because it was the only way to get certain types of money into the state of Mississippi. The diocese of Lansing, Michigan, Jewish Vocational Service, lots of Catholic parishes under the Older Americans Act.
We didn’t have a problem, that I recall, either by our general counsels or by local people in the states in making these kinds of grants. The problem came in the late 70s and 80s and 90s when the money dried up for everybody. So it really wasn’t a religious question from our point of view. Incidentally, we did see the migrant ministry out in California doing a far better job than the US employment service in California, who were out there shuffling migrants into low-paying jobs, where the migrant ministry was fighting for some protection. We had no problem giving that money out there. The only problem was when people said they’re too militant or they’re too liberal, or whatever it might be.
It wasn’t a legal question. We didn’t worry about boards of directors, we didn’t worry about requirements of being a Catholic or non-Catholic or a Jew or a Protestant to get these jobs. They got the jobs done for us. That was the issue that we worked on. That’s just a historical note. It’s not a question.
MR. DIONNE: Thank you very much. Does anyone want to say anything about that? Gregg?
MR. IVERS: There was a direct relationship between the number of lawful applicants and the complexities and the law that existed in that time. I mean, it’s only a half-serious remark, but if you look at the number of lawyers that have proliferated in society, lots of debates that were once considered sort of off the table or not really that important have become hung up in lawsuits, lots of sorts of issues.
But actually, if I could take one moment to address an issue. It sort of came up and it disappeared in one of the questions that you raised, and that is the idea of equal treatment. I think the difficulty for many religious organizations — and I’m going to call them religious organizations because that’s what they are, not faith-based organizations. I’ve read enough of E.J.’s columns to know that he’s a Boston Red Sox fan and arguably he’s a member of the largest faith-based organization of all. [Laughter.] Which is non-religious, at least as we understand that phrase.
MR. DIONNE: The Patriots reaffirmed our faith, by the way.
MR. IVERS: You have baseball season to worry about, so don’t get over-confident.
I think that on the one hand there’s been a long-recognized tradition of religious autonomy, that a lot of religious organizations, some theologically conservative, some theologically liberal, would rather be left alone to do what they want to do than contend for federal dollars.
One of the issues that I’ve noticed in this is how can anything be that good for religion if almost half the people in the country who consider themselves religiously affiliated and the groups that represent them are arguing against this? This is not the ACLU and liberal Jewish organizations saying that something’s wrong. There are lots of mainstream Protestant groups and others that cross a pretty wide ideological swath that have a lot of problems with the very idea of what the White House is doing, and the idea that religion should be more actively engaged in government policymaking and receiving funds.
To me it’s difficult to say on the one hand that we’re treating religion like we’re going to treat everybody else. If you’re a standard issue, secular 501(c)3 and you’re doing something with money, then religious groups ought to be able to participate because that makes a situation equal. But we all know that the hiring requirements, exemption from civil rights laws and all down the line are not administered equally, that religious groups, not the Jewish Federations but Temple Beth-El, just to use an example I’m familiar with, taking my temple on the one hand and the Jewish Federations on the one hand, have to comply with a wholly different set of rules, and it’s the same for a Catholic church versus Catholic Charities.
Now you can argue about whether these distinctions make sense but the reason they’re often framed is so that religious organizations, churches, synagogues, mosques, and so on can do what they want to do free from government regulation. How can you introduce the idea that this is about equal treatment if you’re going to argue as well that we still should be exempt from laws that may apply to secular organizations or only religiously affiliated organizations, but we want to be treated the same as everybody else?
It seems to me at some point there’s going to be a pretty tight rub against the idea of equal treatment, which is a phrase. Again, it’s rhetoric. It doesn’t have anything to do with the exact application of a mathematical principle because in equal treatment some people are going to receive things that other people aren’t getting. Laws are generally set up in a way that reflects the ability of those in power to make those arguments.
One of the things that’s going to be interesting to see is how the government distributes the money, who’s going to get it. Are marginal religious organizations going to get any of this money, or is it going to flow to organizations which are the most politically powerful and well represented in Washington and state capitals? I think there’s a really serious political dynamic that needs to be discussed that focuses on the idea of equal treatment and whether it doesn’t really promote the idea of equal treatment but favorable treatment for religion.
Then secondly, the idea of church or religious autonomy on the one hand, and then compliance with federal rules to get money on the other, and then the dynamic that’s going to occur – to introduce a political science phrase. Do we want to see churches and synagogues and mosques and so on, not the federations of the world, but the people who do the work that people say is so important in our religious character becoming part of the interest groups society ? That is, they become part of the governing process. They are the ones who begin writing the rules and administering the regulations in the same way that everyone in this room knows that organizations that have the ear of policymakers in Washington just as often sit down to write the rules as often as they simply lobby for the rules.
That’s something to think about — at what point is that relationship going to cross the line from advocacy into rule-making, and is that a healthy thing for audience and government.
MR. DIONNE: The gentleman’s question would imply that – contrary to our current thinking – it may be tougher for religiously based groups to get federal money than it might have been 20 years ago. Is there any evidence that that’s true? Does anybody on this panel have any thought on that?
JIM DAVIS: Hi. My name is Jim Davis. I’m in the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in the Department of Justice. Last summer I did an audit of the Department of Justice in terms of results, just like the gentleman said, in terms of, where’s the money going to? Is it going to secular organizations? Is it going to secular organizations? Is it being spread evenly? Or is there an unlevel playing field?
What we found out is first of all the principal funding mechanism for the Department of Justice is the office of justice programs. Office of justice programs has appropriated about $4.2 billion by Congress each year to fund a variety of law enforcement activities. Some of them are like bulletproof vests, counter-terrorism, cop cars, a variety of things like that. I excluded all those because faith-based organizations really had no role in any of those. But certainly in terms of the victims of crime, juvenile justice issues, delinquency prevention, violence against women, all those things faith-based organizations, we have a natural compassionate desire to be part of those programs.
So I eliminated the ones where faith-based organizations shouldn’t be involved, and left about $2.6 billion left for those type of programs which they should be involved with. Of the amount that was distributed by the office of justice programs, $2.6 billion, the amount that was received by faith-based organizations — and that included a broad array. In other words, just to make it as broad as possible in what a faith-based organization was, we included not only Catholic charities and other religiously affiliated ones, we included the YMCA, Young Men’s Christian Association. Well, most of those probably consider themselves to be community organizations as opposed to faith-based organizations, but we put them in the group also.
We found out that in the year 2000, the faith-based organizations received 0.25 percent of the money. Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is unlevel. And perhaps things were different in the 1970s, but I can tell you, in the year 2000 that’s what the Department of Justice did.
In terms of Mr. Light’s question, I can also address that. Before I came here I was an attorney in Chicago. We did dozens of 501(c)3 applications to the Internal Revenue Service. There is a distinction to be drawn, Mr. Light, between simply setting up a nonprofit organization and obtaining tax exempt status for that. We found, certainly in the state of Illinois, it was very easy, frankly, to get a group of people together, fill out articles of incorporation, send them down to the Illinois Secretary of State. They would then come back and say, you are now incorporated as a nonprofit organization. That was easy, relatively simple, probably a month or six-week process, maybe $50 in terms of filing fee, not much at all. No problem at all with that.
The problem came with the Internal Revenue Service in justifying so you get tax-exempt status for that, so that donations to the organization are tax deductible. That normally took about 18 months to do, and typically our bill would range anywhere from $4,000 to $7,000 for a nonprofit organization.
Now if you’re a small church in the inner city looking for a $10,000 to $20,000 grant, I’m not sure if you’re even going to get that because everything’s competitive and there’s a limited amount of money. If you are now going to require them to pony up about $4,000 to $7,000 for 501(c)3 organization and a new charter which may not lead to anything, that’s a big thing to ask.
MR. LIGHT: I read your wonderful report and John’s wonderful report. I guess I force a semantic issue. The answer in your statistic is not equal. Whether it’s level, I don’t know. We’d have to see how many faith-based organizations applied to Justice to know whether or not they got more than they asked for, and there may be some reasons identified in the report that a lot of small organizations, both nonprofits, (c)3 and faith-based, don’t apply at all.
I think what I came away from your audit with was a wonderful study of why small organizations don’t do very well in government, and why big organizations do. So your analysis at Justice in terms of what the size of the organizations were that actually got the money suggested, as I recall, that it was large organizations that do very well. Isn’t that the case?
MR. DAVIS: One of the things we did find is that the people that get the money are the people that follow the Federal Register, that know where to look for the money, that have an interest in following this. It’s the $100 million behemoths that we talked about before that have the staff in place, that have access to wonderful meetings like this and trade associations and organizations like that. But sure, that’s part of it. But that’s also the building of the capacity that you mentioned. That’s something we focused on as well. We certainly want to welcome faith-based organizations to participate in social services, since they have the compassion for the poor. What we want to do is we’ve got to broadcast this and invite them in and make it friendly, and that also includes some autonomy.
Going back to the question that was raised by the lady back there in terms of is this really a requirement that government can’t dictate who the board of directors will be of a faith-based organization, I would challenge a government bureaucrat who has been looking at a board of a secular organization to demand that they put on an evangelical Christian or orthodox Jew on the secular organization. That’s not a requirement. They never mandate you’ve got to have religious people on a secular organization. It’s always the other way around. That again is discrimination on the basis of religion.
MR. LIGHT: I’d say, ever was it thus that the big organization has the capacity. And I don’t think anybody should delude themselves, yourself included, that a bunch of real small inner city churches are going to line up at the Justice Department window for grants. You and I know exactly who’s going to be lining up. We can predict it right now. I’ll take a side bet on which are the faith-based organizations that will emerge from Justice with money. Large organizations have core capacities.
As for the IRS, I think they’re getting better, and they have a long way to go and I think they’re getting better.
MS. TENPAS: I think it’s also important to note, if you look back on the transition, they were debating about what to call the Office, and during the campaign he made a pledge that he would create the Office of Faith-Based Action. But then after he was elected there was a debate over whether it should be called the Office of Faith-based Action, the Office of Community Initiatives, or the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. It made me think if they had named it something more innocuous, the Office of Community Initiatives, things would have been quite different.
Also to note on the audit, the audit reported that there were roughly 15 barriers. Actually there were 15, but roughly 13, maybe 12 of those barriers were classic public administration problems. They had nothing to do with whether it was a faith-based organization or any other group, and there was criticism at the time that the audit was simply a justification for creating the office that would then create these faith-based centers.
So I think you need to sort of look carefully at the audit and the audit report and remember that it was an audit conducted by the administration.
MR. DIONNE: I just want to say, by the way, thanks to that gentleman, if the so-called permissive 60s were much friendlier to faith-based and religious organizations, a lot of people will have to revise a lot of what they’ve written about the 1960s.
This lady right here.
LAURA MECKLER: I’m Laura Meckler from the Associated Press. If this is permitted, I have a question for the gentleman from the Department of Justice. And that is, I’m wondering if you agree with the conclusion in the report that says in the long run the most profound impact will lie in the rewriting of hundreds of regulations that would shift the flow of federal funds to religious groups. Do you agree that that will be the most profound impact in the end of this initiative? And to what extent is that already underway?
MR. DAVIS: Well, it certainly would justify the existence of my job, but how can I render an opinion as to what the most profound effect would be. I would frankly think that legislatively, both with H.R. 7 as well as Senate bill 1924, which are currently being discussed in Congress are certainly the forefront of things right now. But I’d love to be known some day, at least by my children, of having a profound impact.
MR. LIGHT: I know this is going to get me in trouble, but the devil is in the details here in this faith-based initiative, and I think that as Katie said, rules are hard to follow. We will be able to follow the funding, but the people writing the rules, the approval process for the rules is very cumbersome to follow, very difficult to track, and I think there are people who will be watching it, but I think Katie’s right.
MR. DIONNE: Keith has been containing himself the whole time. Over here to Keith in the front.
KEITH PAVLISCHEK: The language that has been used – faith-based or 501(c)3 – seems to imply that no 501(c)3 can be faith-based. And therefore, if no 501(c)3 can be faith-based, none can legitimately receive public funds. Now I think the audit explicitly addressed that and said that that was not the case in law, but I don’t know about that.
It seems to me that there are all kinds of nonprofits – Christian colleges, Calvin College, Wheaton College – that receive all kinds of federal money to the institution, gobs of money. At Calvin College, they not only require the faculty to be Protestant, but they also require them to be Calvinist and subscribe to confessions, and they’re forced to send their kids to Christian schools. Wheaton College faculty has to sign a no-drinking pledge. All kinds of federal money flows through students to those institutions.
So the principle cannot be that explicitly religious non-profit organizations can receive no federal funds. I just want to clarify. Is that the claim that’s being advanced here, or may not permissively, constitutionally, or not as a public policy matter?
MR. LIGHT: I think that at Calvin and Wheaton Colleges we’re dealing with a different set of law. I don’t know what money is going to Calvin or Wheaton for loans and for student financial assistance, and I don’t know what the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act might require there. I think there is an implied conversation here that we don’t talk about very much that says that the nonprofit sector has basically failed in some way, and that really we need to create the opportunity for others to enter certain fields of endeavor with a more passionate, compassionate point of view in order to solve deep and lasting problems.
I tend to kind of draw the distinction between the nonprofit sector of the voluntary nonprofit sector and the faith-based sector. I like Gregg’s term, I like the notion of calling this the religious-based organizations, but I don’t think it’s going to catch on. I really don’t.
BOB ANDRINGA: I’m Bob Andringa, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, which includes Calvin College.
MR. DIONNE: See, you ask a question in this room and there’s somebody who can answer it.
MR. ANDRINGA: I’d like to go back to Paul’s question, though, on this last dialogue. As I understand it there are about 1.8 million nonprofits. About half of those are (c)3’s, and for 15 years I’ve worked with faith-based (c)3’s, and there are about 100,000 of those 800,000 who would probably feel comfortable with evangelical as a definition. And of those 100,000, in working with them — some may disagree here — but I would say less than five percent have any interest in applying for federal grants.
If there are any faith-based organizations who are not (c)3’s, I think it’s entirely legitimate that they be required to be a (c)3 and held to all of the rules and regulations that apply. In our community there’s really only one concern, and that is the possibility of local and state, if not federal laws, not following Title 7 of the civil rights act, allowing an exemption in hiring people who would violate the basic tenets of the faith.
So here Protestant, Catholic, Jewish leaders are together. If we were required to hire, not to serve — fine with serving anyone, faith or non-faith-based — but if we were required to put on the boards or hire people who would be practicing homosexuals, that’s the issue. Race not a problem, ethnicity not a problem, sex not a problem, national origin not a problem. So if Title 7 protections could go to the state and local levels as we now have that protection at the federal level, there would be a great deal of relaxation and more support for this. Still I think less than five percent of those truly faith-based religious organizations would have any interest in applying, and they should be held to all of the requirements anyone else should be held to.
MR. DIONNE: I want to first thank Katie for this wonderful paper which set off such a great discussion. I want to thank Gregg, Paul, and Jim, in his absence. I want to thank the good-natured gentleman from the Department of Justice. Thanks to everybody who came here. One of the things we’ve discovered at the Forum every time we have an event like this is how many thoughtful people there are in this city who care about this question.
I will finally call on the sainted — if I could use that term — Melissa Rogers to close the event.
MS. ROGERS: I’d like to ask the members of the Pew Forum staff to stand for a moment. I’d like to give them a hand because they never get enough thanks. Thank you all for your very diligent work on this event, and thanks to each of you on the panel, and we hope to see you again some time soon. Thank you.