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Weighed and Found Wanting: Finding the Proper Balance between Faith-Based Organizations and Government

GVER, Vol. 4 No. 2, (2003)

President Bush’s new Faith-Based Initiative has created a great deal of interest throughout the United States. Many see the need for partnering with faith-based organizations as a natural use of existing stable organizations to provide much-needed social programs throughout the country. Others see this initiative as a dangerous precedent that crosses a distinct line between church and state.

At the core of the debate for the Faith-Based Initiative are several questions. How can a faith-based organization provide services and ignore its very basis for being? If an organization – a church or group based on values and faith – provides social services under any circumstances, is it possible, or even desirable for that organization to be “neutral” in terms of values and faith? Can a strong basis in faith be compatible with government service – either by an organization or by an individual?

To gain some insight into these issues, vignettes in the life of Daniel in Babylon provide insight into how faith-based organizations (and faith-based individuals in public service) can draw on the strength of their values to provide for the public good -- while respecting the rights of others to weigh and determine their own beliefs. The danger today exists that this fine line may be crossed in two ways: 1) when government chooses one faith-based organization over another purely because of its faith rather than its capacity and ability to deliver services (in violation of the establishment clause of the United States Constitution); and 2) when the faith-based organization engages in proselytization as a quid pro quo for the services it provides.

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