Anew study issued by a team of researchers led by Sheila Kennedy at Indiana University-Purdue University (Charitable Choice: First Results from Three States) appears to offer grim news on the President's faith-based initiative. It asserts that "faith-based job training and placement services are somewhat less effective than those of secular organizations" and that "congregational leaders lack the constitutional knowledge and competence to assure constitutionally appropriate program implementation."

The study—a preliminary report—is based on an investigation of charitable choice implementation in three states: Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Indiana. Charitable choice refers to the new rules passed as part of the 1996 federal welfare reforms to guide government contracting with faith-based organizations (FBOs) that deliver social services. President Bush supports charitable choice, and has advocated increased collaboration between government and FBOs.

The report asserts that Bush's initiative is based on the assumption that faith-based groups outperform secular social service providers. The Washington Post journalist reporting on the study unquestioningly accepted this claim. But it's wrong. In fact, the initiative has always been about creating a level playing field by ending discrimination against FBOs. As the White House has stated repeatedly, the guiding principle behind the initiative "is that faith-based charities should be able to compete on an equal footing for public dollars to provide public services." There's no reason to expect that all faith-based programs are more effective than all secular programs. Rather, those faith-based programs that are effective (whether they be many or few) should not be excluded from ...

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