Faith-based centers find an "unlevel playing field"
A new study as part of President Bush's faith-based initiative reveals that a "repressive and restrictive" federal grants process actually does more to discourage faith and community-based services from applying for funds than to encourage them. In fact, federal officials and needlessly burdensome regulations "actively undermine the established civil rights of these groups."

In the first month of his presidency, Bush created five Centers for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives within various federal departments—Health and Human Services, Education, Labor, Justice, and Housing and Urban Development—and charged each to conduct department-wide audits to identify barriers that prevent religious groups from taking part in government programs. This combined report, "Unlevel Playing Field" (Bush's statement | pdf), was released yesterday.

According to the report, a there is a widespread bias against faith and community-based organizations which:

· Restricts some religious groups from applying for funding

· Restricts religious organizations that are not prohibited by the constitution

· Does not honor the rights given to religious organizations under federal law

· Burdens small organizations with cumbersome regulations and requirements

The survey presents Bush with another weapon in the fight for his faith-based plans. Until now, efforts to push faith-based initiative legislation through Congress have traveled a bumpy road. Last month, the House passed a limited bill allowing charities to receive federal money while maintaining their religious character.

The survey found that agency officials and their rules—and not the law—cause most of the cited problems. Thus, faith-based initiative ...

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