Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Federal Faith-Based Grant Writing Class

Last Summer I attended a grant writing class put on by the Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI). It was actually a very good program on how to obtain Federal grants from Housing and Urban Development and other departments. The two-day course also provided a good overview on grant writing in general and the best thing was that there was no charge to attend. When asked why such a great workshop was not provided in the past, and was being run out of OFBCI, the staff replied that "there has been discrimination in the past against faith-based organizations" when it came to Federal grants.

President Bush repeated this ridiculous theme yesterday in addressing a conference put on by OFBCI. If this were true, then how did Catholic Charities and many other "faith-based" organizations obtain Federal grants for decades prior to Bush's Presidency? It has always been true that faith-based organizations must separate their Federally funded programs from others within the church and not require religious participation to obtain a free meal or participate in the program. The HUD and OFBCI staff that conducted this workshop assured the attendees that this was still the case. But the truth is that most religious groups do not WANT to separate out the preaching and converting from their programs. And of course that is perfectly fine if they don't plan to do this evangelizing with our tax dollars.

The grant workshop staff were very careful to explain that not only must the programs avoid preaching, but that they can't discriminate in their hiring practices when it comes to a program receiving Federal grants. However, they can get around this if the church staff person also does other activities and a portion of their time is on the Federally funded program. So in effect, they can and do discriminate against atheists, agnostics, and people of a different religion in their hiring practices.

Sorry, but I just don't think our tax dollars should be supporting religious activities that bar participation by staff and individuals who do not subscribe to that particular faith. We still have a little thing in the US called the Constitution, and one would think that churches would like to continue the freedom they have to practice their religions free of government interference.

So while the workshop was excellent and mostly had nothing to do with religion, I still have big questions about the advisability and Constitutionality of the "faith-based" program grants. And since this appears to be the ONLY free grant writing program offered by the Federal government, if you have a chance to attend I recommend doing so.


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