Late last Friday, the White House is issued guidance setting forth fundamental principles and policymaking criteria for the social service partnerships the government forms with religious and other neighborhood organizations.
With this executive order, President Obama adopted many of the recommendations made by his first Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships on which OU/IPA Executive Director Nathan Diament served. The guidance follows on the Council’s recommendations.
The White House report issued today provides agencies with additional guidance on how to implement common-ground reforms to address many complex and controversial issues relating to government interaction with religious organizations. For example, pursuant to the Advisory Council’s recommendations, the guidance directs agencies to ensure that:
- Standards regarding the relationship between religion and government are monitored and enforced in ways that avoid excessive entanglement between religious bodies and governmental entities;
- Decisions about federal grants are free from political interference or even the appearance of such interference and made on the basis of merit, not on the basis of the religious affiliation of a recipient organization or lack thereof;
- Beneficiaries of federally funded social services may receive services from a nonreligious provider if they object to receiving services from a religious provider;
- Providers are given detailed and practical guidance regarding the principle that any explicitly religious activities they offer must be clearly separated, in time or location, from programs that receive direct federal support; subsidized with purely private funds, and completely voluntary for social service beneficiaries;
- Social service intermediaries that disburse federal funds are instructed about their special obligations, and recipients of subawards are made aware of the church-state standards that apply to their use of federal aid;
- Plans are developed to train government employees and grant recipients on the church-state rules that apply to these partnerships; and
- Regulations, guidance documents, and policies that have implications for faith-based and neighborhood organizations are posted online, along with lists of organizations receiving federal financial assistance.
Commenting on the guidance, Nathan Diament stated:
It is gratifying to see the work of the president’s Advisory Council being further implemented. Our efforts to find common ground on difficult, and sometimes controversial issues, will bear fruit, thanks to President Obama, as this guidance strengthens the ability of faith-based organizations to partner with the government in serving social welfare needs while simultaneously ensuring the protection of the First Amendment rights of the organizations and their beneficiaries.