The report released today by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives analyzes current government policy toward faith-based and other community social service providers—a topic of great public interest and debate. Pew Forum polling has shown that while the public expresses strong support for the idea of faith-based groups receiving government funding to provide social services, it has many reservations about how that is put into practice.
In a survey presented jointly by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, three-quarters of Americans favored allowing churches and other houses of worship to apply for government funding to provide social services. In fact, respondents thought that religious organizations could be more effective than non-religious groups or government agencies in the areas of feeding the homeless (a 40% plurality said religious groups could do the best job, with 28% choosing government agencies and 25% opting for non-religious, community groups) and providing counseling and education to prisoners (the breakdown was 40% for religious organizations, 35% for government agencies and 18% for non-religious groups.)
There are important differences of opinion, however, on questions such as which religious groups should be eligible for government funds, whether faith-based programs would be able to meet government standards, and on the issue of requiring participation in religious practices in order to receive services. Additionally, more than three-quarters of Americans (78%) say that religious organizations that use government funds to provide social services should not be allowed to only hire people who share their religious beliefs.
The White House report is the result of an executive order signed by President Bush in January 2001 providing for the creation of Centers for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives within five federal agencies and requiring these Centers to submit audits of the agencies to the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
On Friday, August 17, the Pew Forum will continue the discussion of this report with a panel of experts, featuring administrators and managers of social service funds who can speak to the impact of federal policies and regulations on their work.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life serves as both a town hall and a clearinghouse of information, providing independent research, new polling information, balanced analysis, and referrals to experts in the field. In addition, the Forum provides a place to draw together many perspectives for fruitful exchange of ideas. The Forum is nonpartisan and does not a position on President Bush's faith-based initiative. It is supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts through a grant to Georgetown University.
For more information, please contact Robert Mills at 202.419.4564 or read the report online.