February 25, 2008


Battle brews over federal funds, religious groups (Amy Fagan, February 19, 2008 , Washington Times)

There's a heated behind-the-scenes battle brewing in the Senate to kill language in a mental health and social services law that allows religious groups who receive federal funds to continue hiring only people of their particular faith.

A coalition of mostly liberal groups such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State, with some religious groups, oppose the language — known as charitable choice — which was added to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) law in 2000. [...]

Supporters of charitable choice said before it was in place many faith-based groups were treated poorly by government agencies and shied away from applying for federal money, fearing they would have to change their religious nature. Many of these groups are highly effective in helping the addicted and mentally ill, supporters said, and without charitable choice, many of them won't apply for federal aid, perhaps dropping out.

"We need all hands on deck; we need everyone involved in this effort, including faith-based organizations," said Arne Owens, a top adviser at SAMHSA, who noted that 23 million Americans have substance-abuse problems requiring treatment. "Our concern is that if this language is taken out, it will have a severe chilling effect on the faith-based group participation."

The charitable-choice policy was added to the SAMHSA law toward the end of the Clinton administration. Congress has included it in at least three major federal programs over the years, beginning with welfare reform in the mid-1990s. President Bush has been a strong advocate for it. In his State of the Union speech last month, he asked Congress to make charitable choice a permanent part of federal law.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 25, 2008 12:18 PM
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