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How Faith-based Organizations Work

Grants for Faith-based Organizations

Nine days after former President George W. Bush took office in January 2001, he signed an executive order establishing the Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives to give federal grants to religious organizations for providing social services.

Historically, federal and state agencies have been prohibited from contracting with faith-based organizations to provide these services because the U.S. Constitution mandates a separation between church and state. Over the years, however, a series of laws have included provisions allowing government agencies to contract with religious organizations to provide social services needed to carry out the goals of that law.

In 1996, Congress passed a welfare reform law that instituted a major overhaul of the system that shifted the focus from providing cash assistance to helping poor people find jobs. A provision of that law allowed states to use their Temporary Assistance to Needy Children (TANF) block grants from the federal government to contract with faith-based organizations to provide services such as job training to welfare recipients [source: De Vita].

A similar provision was also in the Substances Abuse & Prevention & Treatment Block Grant created in 1992, which allowed treatment centers run by faith-based organizations to receive public funding. As a result of these provisions, faith-based organizations receive millions in federal funding each year. Catholic Services, for one, gets 65 percent of its funding from the government [source: Salmon].

To address the potential violations of the separation of church and state doctrine, these laws prohibit faith-based organizations from using public money to support "inherently religious activities," such as worship or evangelism. The organizations also have to offer clients who don't want religious counsel the alternative of switching to a secular program [source: De Vita].

Read on to find out how you can help.