Eye on the Capitol|
Many baseless beliefs surround faith-based group proposal
Such collaborations will not solve all our problems or destroy our basic liberties
First of two columns
By John Huebscher
In other columns I have recalled the axiom "nothing is as good or
as bad as it first appears." This axiom is worth noting as one
examines proposals in both Madison and Washington to foster
greater involvement of religious or faith-based organizations in
efforts to address community problems.
At first blush, one might wonder what could possibly be wrong
with the idea that churches or organizations connected to a
particular religious denomination might be effective in helping
combat social ills.
After all, churches are dedicated to helping people and
recipients themselves are often more trusting of religious groups
than they are of government or private sector agencies. Many
religious agencies have good track records for using resources
But nothing involving religion is simple these days. Thus, while
the concept of fostering faith-based responses to problems is
praiseworthy, there are reasons to be cautious.
The idea of faith-based responses to community problems must deal
with the fears of opponents, as well as the misplaced
expectations of some supporters.
For in reality, such partnerships will not solve all of society's
problems, though they can help us do better. But neither will
they destroy our liberties or betray our traditions, as some
The balance of this column will deal with the fears of opponents
who see the ideas as a breach in the wall between church and
Some argue that using government funds to support faith-based
groups violates the Constitutional ban on government-established
religion. Not so. Government does not establish a state church
merely by inviting religious groups into the public square.
The secular purposes of fighting hunger, poverty, restoring
relationships, teaching the ignorant, helping people battle
alcohol and drug dependencies also have sacred results - for the
act of doing these things ennobles both the helper and the person
who is helped.
No Constitutional amendment prohibits that.
Nor should it be assumed that a partnership between government
and religious organizations gives churches a license to
Most faith-based providers operate out of a conviction that their
example of service is a more powerful evangelical tool than is a
call to religious conversion. As Sharon Daly of Catholic
Charities USA puts it, "we don't help the needy because we hope
they will become Catholic, we help them because we are Catholic."
Finally, the collaboration most supporters have in mind already
goes on with many religiously affiliated charities. The more
likely impact of efforts to increase collaboration between
government agencies and religious groups will not be a revision
of the First Amendment, but a better understanding of what it
Relationships between institutions change as the different
parties learn from experience and the wisdom that accompanies it.
Faith-based collaboration can be a source of such experience and
wisdom. We should not be afraid to explore it.
At the same time, collaboration between government and religious
groups can suffer as much from unrealistic expectations as it
will from unfounded fears.
That will be the subject of my next column.
(Huebscher is executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic
Conference, the civil arm of the state's five diocesan bishops.)