The next few months may be as news worthy; Bush has asked for a Senate-approved bill by the end of fall. What are the keys to the bill's success in the Senate, and what has shaped it so far?
On August 17, University of Pennsylvania academic John J. DiIulio, announced his resignation from the top position of the Faith-Based Office citing health concerns. From the beginning, he stressed his commitment would only be six months.
A Denver Post editorial predicted the impact of DiIulio's resignation on the Bush administration:
The departing DiIulio has humorously played down his own importance, saying, "I'm just a teeny, tiny insignificant speck of a man." But the fact is he was in many ways the brains behind the proposal … DiIulio's resignation, after just seven months on the job, is a setback for the program. His departure is just another sign of how difficult it will be to get the Bush proposal through Congress in the face of both liberal and conservative opposition … If the president hopes to see his program enacted into law, he will have to find a strong replacement for Dilulio and find one fast.
Samuel K. Atchison, George H. Gallup International Institute fellow and prison chaplain, wrote in Religion News Service that DiIulio's departure is such a hit to the White House that "the loss is incalculable and threatens to undermine the credibility of the president's faith-based agenda."
However, CNN wrote that DiIulio was doomed from the start:
From the moment in January when the professor and registered Democrat was tapped to oversee Bush's faith-based-charities initiative, DiIulio struggled in the job. As the program faltered in Congress, the outspoken, proudly impolitic DiIulio clashed with lawmakers, alienated religious conservatives and feuded with White House colleagues …
Lately he has been coming to work so infrequently from his home in Philadelphia that his unpaid assistant took over his office. Last week, when he announced his intention to resign, DiIulio cited personal and health reasons. He has heart trouble, but was also frustrated with the good-soldier corporate culture of the Bush White House, and bitter about the suspicion and partisanship—on both sides—that had all but crippled his program
But if anyone would have success, a Washington Post editorial contended that DiIulio was the person to translate Bush's campaign rhetoric into action:
DiIulio knew that the plural of anecdote is not data. He was cautious about suggesting that faith-based programs might be superior, because no social science demonstrates that contention. So DiIulio advanced all manner of other arguments with his customary vigor. He was an honest body slammer rather than a charming fraud. Too bad that he is leaving.
Jerry Falwell, founder and chancellor of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virgina, told The Dallas Morning News that a main requirement for DiIulio's replacement should be knowledge of the religious landscape. "John DiIulio got into trouble the first day in office because he didn't know the clientele," Falwell told the paper. "I would hope President Bush gets someone who knows the faith-based community and doesn't leave anyone out of it. Anyone will be an improvement on John DiIulio."
Ron Sider, President of Evangelicals for Social Action told Christianity Today that DiIulio is why the faith-based issue has found national prominence. "An enormous amount has been accomplished so far," Sider said. "The issue of faith- and community-based agencies has become a central discussion in the country and on front pages. That is new and wonderful. John DiIulio did a great job getting it started."
The state of Charitable Choice
The New York Times questioned whether Charitable Choice could survive without DiIulio who gave it "credibility and bipartisan sheen." The bill, more controversial than many predicted, has drawn much heat for a House-approved provision to make faith-based service providers exempt from state and local employment discrimination laws. The September 1 editorial called for Joe Lieberman (D., Conn.) to "either rid the bill of its most dangerous provisions or shelve it." The article said:
Workers who had been hired to deliver charitable services could be discriminated against on account of private conduct as well as religious beliefs. Groups running federally funded programs might be able to refuse to hire an applicant because he had been divorced, or fire a worker who has a child out of wedlock. Mr. Lieberman, the most influential Democratic champion of the bill in the Senate, needs to correct that.
Rich Cizik, vice president of government affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), told Christianity Today that the removal of the hiring exemption provision "would probably make it a bill not worth signing."
Keith Pavlischek of The Center for Public Justice said, "The argument that [the opposition to the hiring exemption] is making is that if you receive one penny from federal grants, it destroys the protection for faith-based organizations to hire those with like beliefs. Protection is not overrideen by the reciept of public funds for secular service."
He, too, feels the outcome lies with Lieberman. In a recent Capital Commentary, Pavlischek argued:
Those who opposed H.R. 7 did so precisely because the legislation protected the "religious character" of FBOs (as Gore said it should), particularly in their employment decisions. The legislation now faces similar objections in the Democrat-controlled Senate, and Sen. Joe Lieberman seems to be aligning himself with the separationists.
Yet perhaps it is not too late for Sen. Lieberman to recover his earlier political courage and lead the Democrats to higher ground. We will soon find out, because he will likely play a major role in drafting Senate legislation to expand charitable choice. If Sen. Lieberman caves in on the issue of protecting the integrity of FBOs, we will have reason to doubt his viability as a responsible leader among Senate Democrats and as a potential presidential candidate.
David P. Gushee, associate professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, argued that concessions already made in the bill have it staggering toward oblivion. The loss of protection in hiring would be the final step. He wrote in a Religion News Service column:
One thing is completely clear—if the bill ends up requiring religious organizations to hire people whose beliefs or practices violate their cherished beliefs, most remaining religious support for the bill will turn into heated opposition. Not to mention that the concessions already made raise serious questions as to whether the outcome of this initiative will finally do more good than harm.
As one who initially supported this proposal, I hereby register my disdain for the hash that is being made out of it in Washington. I am not at all sure I will be able to support what survives of it.
Cizik defended the changes made to pass the bill through the House. "The bill written clearly passes constitutional muster," he said. "Why should we waste time passing bills that are unconstitutional as defined by this Supreme Court? Some say the bill was written to specifically satisfy Sandra Day O'Connor."
The Washington Post disagrees. Not only is it unconstitional, argued a July editorial, but it should not have passed the House. "This is a bad bill. It should have been written cautiously if written at all. Instead it was aggressively drawn, in part to score political points. In its present form it would infringe on civil liberties, civil rights, and even the states' rights its sponsors profess to support in other contexts."
Cizik said in its current form the bill is entirely consistent with "NAE's understanding of church and state separation" and remains an important step for the religious community.
"This is ground zero of defending our own private institution against government intrusion," Cizik said. "This is an important step forward for faith-based organizations to compete with secular agencies. Just because we can't have everything doesn't mean it's worthless. Can this make a difference? Absolutely."
Ciro Scotti of BusinessWeek Online feels the legislation may be worthless—and damaging to its own cause. On Aug. 22, he wrote that "the President's efforts to funnel more federal money into the charitable work of religious organizations may ultimately lead to less involvement in social services by religious groups—to the detriment of the poor and needy."
World editor Marvin Olasky, often credited with being the "grandfather" of compassionate conservatism, recently confronted his thoughts for the bill in his "Remarkable Providences" column. He found he's bothered by a matter of principle:
H.R. 7 clearly prefers some religious groups (those that don't see worship, teaching, and evangelism as central) over others, and that violates the First Amendment ban on "establishing" one religious perspective as the favorite. Why should theologically liberal groups receive preference while evangelical and orthodox Jewish organizations become second-class citizens? I wish President Bush would fight to put an end to government hostility to all faiths, including those that evangelize.
A three-pronged effort
Bush's faith-based efforts do not hinge solely on the legislation.
Pavlischek of The Center for Public Justice told Christianity Today that DiIulio's departure eclipsed more substantial news. "The headlines that are attributing John's departure to problems in the Bush Administration are overblown. His leaving was not a surprise," Pavlischek said. "This coverage distracted attention away from a very strong White House report, which will allow agencies to work on lowering the barriers to faith-based groups themselves without legislation."
The report, compiled by the five cabinet Centers for Faith-Based & Community Initiatives, was released on August 16. The authors of the report, "Unlevel Playing Field," found that the "repressive and restrictive" federal grants process discourages faith and community-based services from applying for funds. It reported that agencies have room to improve funding options themselves by "removing barriers."
"I expect they will do precisely that in the next year and it should go a long way to change the climate and open the funding field a bit," Pavlischek said. "The legislation is going to be what catches a lot of flak, but the executive branch will be able to accomplish a great deal."
NAE's Cizik agrees. "Proclaiming the death of faith-based services purely based on H.R. 7 is nonsense," he said. "There are avenues of change available to us beyond this one piece of legislation."
He said the Bush administration's faith-based push is a three-pronged attack of education of the public, empowerment of individual agencies, and, "only lastly," the H.R. 7 legislation.
The next steps
While not doomed, the legislation's future is unpredictable, Cizik said. "It is clearly in the category of 'to be determined,'" he said. "The trick is to get something the president should sign and not just could. It is better to have no bill than a bad bill. It will take evangelical support to make sure the bill passed is to our liking."
Discussion is key, Cizik said. "I think the public can be educated on why a hiring exemption is important," he said. "A full and fair debate and a Senate bill with the exemption is what we need, but it is not certain."
ESA's Sider (who recently wrote on social-service providers in Christianity Today) agrees that communication between opposing sides is integral. "It has got to be clear for the Democrats that this is not just moving money from agency to agency but is increasing efforts to empower the poor," Sider said.
Part of this discussion is happening now, Sider told Christianity Today this week, in work groups organized by Sen. Rick Santorum (R. Pa.).
While observers point to the roles Santorum and Lieberman will play, Cizik and Sider feel the future of faith-based legisaltion also comes down to Bush's dedication. Sider said an important move for the White House now is to reiterate continued support.
"A lot depends on what Bush will decide is fair and just and compromises he is willing to make. The liberal media would say the bill is [dead on arrival] in the Senate but I wouldn't say that's true," Cizik told Christianity Today. "H.R. 7 has had more than one near-death expereince, and probably will again before it passes."
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