Dr. Welton Gaddy's Speech to Members of the
Special Committee on Charitable Choice Services for Oklahoma
September 11, 2003
Good afternoon, my name is Welton Gaddy and I serve as the President of The Interfaith Alliance. The Interfaith Alliance is a faith-based, non-partisan, grassroots organization dedicated to promoting the positive and healing role of religion in the life of our nation and challenging those who employ religion to promote intolerance. With more than 150,000 members drawn from over 65 faith traditions, local Alliances in 38 states, and a national network of religious leaders, The Interfaith Alliance promotes compassion, civility and mutual respect for human dignity in our increasingly diverse society.
It is a pleasure to be here at the invitation of Marvin Chiles...a longtime activist for The Interfaith Alliance and a recently elevated member of our national board of directors. I will have you know that The Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma City is one of our largest and most effective local Alliances in the nation.
Today, is indeed September 11th, 2003…the two year anniversary of events so tragic that they shook our national spirit to its very core and forced us as a nation to either rally every ounce of patriotism in our being – to put on a brave face and move forward – despite our fears and apprehension –- or risk exposing a divide in this country that could bring an end to the America as we know it.
I want you to know that as far as I am concerned, today is not only a day to honor and remember the victims and heroes in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia, but all Americans and people of faith who have lost their lives in senseless acts of terrorism. And that includes those who lost their lives in the Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. Today the thoughts and prayers of everyone at The Interfaith Alliance are with the families and victims of that national tragedy. They are remembered, and we pay tribute to them.
The heart of the work of The Interfaith Alliance for three years now has been the so-called faith based initiative. As the president of an interfaith organization which defends religious liberty and works for an America where all faith traditions share the respect of all her citizens, nothing, as far as I am concerned, puts this vision more at risk than a system where whichever party controls the White House can steer tax dollars to religious denominations and churches that have accrued favor with the political appointees and administrative officials who control the government’s purse strings.
Reasons for Opposition
Often times, when people not familiar with the details of the office hear that the Interfaith Alliance is opposed to a faith-based program they are perplexed or even surprised…after all, why would a religious organization oppose a White House initiative to fund religious groups? The reasons for our opposition to the faith-based initiative agenda are many.
The weakness of this so-called Faith-Based Initiative, and I am talking both on the federal and state level here, is that it is built on a faulty foundation. And what I mean by that is the President and supporters of this program like to say that faith-based organizations inherently do a better job at social reform than do their secular counterparts. That gross generalization bears all the flaws of any gross generalizations. The fact is that some faith-based social service agencies do a better job than their secular counterparts and some do not. Frankly, we cannot even assume that a religious program of charity will be run with more integrity and accountability than other charitable programs. My observation grows not out of cynicism or anti-religious bias but out of 40 years of ministry involving interaction with a number of religious organizations. In my first year of seminary, when my seminary notes were stolen by another student, I learned that people in religious institutions represent a cross section of the society we serve.
Now let me get specific about our concerns with what we have called “government funded religion” and the President would call his faith-based initiative:
First we know that once political appointees and government bureaucrats start handing out tax dollars to religious groups they will expect something back in return. And just who will be making the decisions about which religious groups to fund and which religious groups to let fight for themselves?
The very thought of the government picking and choosing between giving resources to the Methodists over the Baptists, or the Catholics over the Unitarians should cause every American to shudder.
Questions abound: Will there be a federal test as to which faith groups have a more effective social service program? How do we prevent political patronage from coming into play? Will this vary from state to state depending on where the administration needs political help?
Second, we know that people are hesitant to bite the hand that feeds them. How can religion be counted on to continue to be a prophetic voice to our nation, arguably, religion’s greatest contribution to the health and vitality of our nation, if pastors and religious leaders are afraid to critique a government initiative for fear of losing their government funds? Will we start to see an America where even clergy will have to preach deferentially and be politically correct on issues such as civil rights, compassion for all, and a just nation?
Third, with such a limited pool of money available, we have entered an arena where different faith groups will be competing against each other for funds. We could see a time when religious groups are openly critical of each other trying to get an upper hand in the application for funds. I can remember when this proposal was introduced, Pat Robertson, one time head of the Christian Coalition, and whose charity Operation Blessing has received a faith-based grant, objected to the initiative out of his fear that federal dollars would be granted to the Church of Scientology and to religions that he did not personally agree with.
Fourth, this initiative as it currently stands has sparked a heated debate in Congress and congregations alike over the probability of government funded employment discrimination.
Since churches are exempt from all federal hiring practices since they do not receive government funds, churches have the right to only hire employees of their particular faith. We at The Interfaith Alliance defend this right. However, once federal money is involved, and faith-based organizations accept these funds, we believe that they should have to comply with all federal, state and local hiring guidelines. And this includes not being able to discriminate based on religious beliefs.
And finally, accountability. How do we ensure that the social services being provided are meeting professional standards for excellence? How do we know exactly where the money and the limited resources of our government are being spent? The financial affairs of houses of worship are private…and rightly so.
But once again, accountability to the taxpayers who have funded an organization demands an accounting of exactly where that money went and how the public benefited from the allocation. As a religious leader, I look with apprehension to the day in which private financial books of houses of worship are opened for public viewing and the information on who attends a house of worship, with what frequency, and how much they give is all located in some federal office.
Whenever I talk to people about the faith-based bill, I like to remind them that despite the Bush rhetoric, charitable choice, that is, the government funding faith-based organizations to do social service, is nothing new. It is not a Bush initiative.
As a matter of fact, it was first signed into law by President Clinton after its insertion in the 1996 welfare reform law. The crucial difference is that President Clinton recognized the proper separation of religion and government, and while celebrating the involvement of the faith community in helping the poor, his administration required religious organizations seeking federal funds to form a separate 501(c)(3) corporation which would be 100% independent from the religious denomination. Also, the organization had to agree not to proselytize people in need and not to discriminate in its hiring practices.
These simple requirements ensured that the government money would be used to feed the poor and heal the sick, not advance one doctrine at the expense of others or pay for the lights and Bibles at one house of worship and neglect to do the same for others. The current President, it will come as no surprise too many of you, has a much different view of the Constitution and the proper balance between religion and government.
Today, under the current rules, churches do not have to form a separate corporation to receive federal funds, thus preventing any accountability to the taxpayers as to whether their money was spent on Bibles and other promotional materials or food for the poor. And for the first time in our history, we see a contractual relationship between church and state in which the federal government is the employer, and the religious organization is the employee.
What has happened to the religious landscape in this country since President Bush signed his executive order on his faith based initiative in the opening days of his administration can be akin to “the perfect storm”: seismic shifts in public policy rising against all aspects of religious life – in all directions – while people of faith and good will in this nation get caught in a tidal wave that wreaks havoc on all who are unfortunate enough to be in the way.
Whether it is that for the first time, the administration has haphazardly re-written regulations to allow the Department of Housing and Urban Development to fund the construction of churches with government monies;
The administration allowing the use of taxpayer funds to promote religious charities over their professional, secular, and licensed counterparts;
The federal government allowing religious charities to discriminate in their hiring with federal dollars based on religion – as if a Baptist or a Methodist would feed the poor in a different way than a Catholic, Unitarian or someone who practices no faith at all;
Or for the first time, religions and faith groups competing against each other for favor with the administration and its allies. This last point came to light by way of a leaked memo from the Salvation Army to high ranking Bush administration officials which promised that the religious charity would rally its membership and lobby the Congress in favor of the faith-based proposal in exchange for exemption from local anti-bias laws on hiring and job benefits.
The White House had worked to ensure that the legislation known as H.R.7, introduced in the 107th Congress, would specifically allow for federal regulations to override local and state civil rights laws…meaning that if localities had stronger civil rights protections than the government, the federal rules would override the localities. Apparently, the Administration forgot that it supported local control and states’ rights. After a fight that pitted religious denominations and faith-based advocacy groups against each other, the legislation barely passed the House and died in the Senate.
Worse yet, when the Senate refused to enact the initiative due to its concerns over the religious liberty and civil rights ramifications of the proposal, the president issued another executive order implementing by fiat what he could not get passed by law.
To this end, for the past two years, the administration has consumed itself with the re-writing of regulations throughout the Federal Register and in all Cabinet-level departments so that when religious organizations apply for a grant from the government, they automatically start out with what has been termed “bonus points” over groups like United Way, for example, for simply having a religious name. The Administration has also made it clear that religious groups can discriminate in hiring under the Executive Order when it comes to filling positions with public dollars.
I should tell you that despite the administration’s various attempts to get its faith-based initiative codified into law, the Senate prevented the passage of legislation that contained the employment discrimination provision through the work of Senators Reed of Rhode Island and Durbin of Illinois, both of whom vehemently objected to various unanimous consent requests to pass the legislation with language intact that would allow religious groups to discriminate in hiring with tax dollars. The legislation which passed the Senate nearly unaninimously was marked up in the House two days ago. In the end, after three years of intense legislative maneuvering, we are expecting a final bill that contains incentives for charitable giving that we can all agree too.
But in case anybody here thought the White House was going to claim victory and retreat quietly back to the West Wing, they are now inserting this religious discrimination language into every federal job training bill they can, forcing members of Congress who do not agree with them to choose between funding Head Start, for example, and defending religious liberty. Now, I don’t know what faith-based means to you, but to me, it certainly does not mean forcing people to either vote against feeding hungry kids or taking away their right to religious freedom.
Before I turn to Oklahoma, I want to tell you how political this issue has become. As a matter of fact, all one has to do is look at the last election in which the director of the White House Faith-Based Office found himself holding faith-based events in the districts of vulnerable Republican Members of Congress who were seeking re-election. Jim Towey, the director of the White House office, would take the White House road-showH into the district, do a photo opportunity in a food pantry where the vulnerable Republican would be photographed with Mr. Towey ladling soup for the hungry, and then onto the next campaign stop. Once again, we see this faith-based initiative being manipulated for partisan political gain.
Oklahoma and Texas
As you know, one of the first states in the country to establish a faith-based office was Oklahoma. Nearly two dozen states have formed some version of a faith-based office over the past couple of years and nearly all of them have adopted a mission statement and action plan similar to the White House Office. In some instances, state affiliates have even changed their name, as was done here in Oklahoma, in July of 2001, to more closely resemble the White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives.
What is going on in the states is akin to what is going on through the White House and the cabinet-level departments in Washington. State faith-based offices are being created to actively infuse themselves in the state budgetary process and to act as an intermediary between the local congregations and the federal government.
Much of what I hope this commission will do is examine the efficacy and the accountability of these programs in Oklahoma. It is my hope that you will be trailblazers and trendsetters and that this legislative committee will provide a model for similar studies across the nation.
As you as legislative leaders contemplate where to start, I think it makes sense for you to look south to what has happened in the state of Texas.
Some of you attended a forum in July hosted by The Interfaith Alliance organizations of Oklahoma City and Tulsa. At that forum, Sam Smoot, the executive director of The Texas Freedom Network, presented her organization’s report on the faith-based initiative at five years. What they found should concern every one of us here today, because in Texas, they are no longer talking about hypothetical situations.
Let me quote a little bit from their report, from the section entitled, Texas Lessons:
“Loosening regulations over faith-based providers has not served the faith community at large, but has instead provided a refuge for facilities with a history of regulatory violations, a theological objection to state oversight and a higher rate of abuse and neglect.
Loosening regulations over faith-based providers has endangered people in need and lowered standards of client health, safety and quality of care in Texas.
Faith-based deregulation has allowed physical diseases to go medically untreated.
Regulatory changes have resulted in preferential treatment of faith-based providers in government contracting opportunities.
Taxpayer funds have been co-mingled with church funds and spent on overtly religious activities.
Clients have been ordered by the courts to attend unlicensed faith-based providers.
The Faith-Based Initiative has proven to be a treacherous enterprise for houses of worship, taxpayers, and people in need alike. So treacherous, in fact, that even the very legislators who once promoted the Faith-Based Initiative in Texas have now abandoned the idea, choosing not to renew the state's Alternative Accreditation program for religious providers last year.
As the state that has forged the farthest ahead in the "Charitable Choice" experiment, Texas' move to reverse its involvement in the Faith-Based Initiative is a warning sign for the nation.”
Now, by sharing excerpts of this report from Texas, I am by no means insinuating that Oklahoma is on a similar path or that there is a similar situation in Oklahoma. That is not for me to suggest. As legislators and as members of this study commission, it is up to you to push for answers, specific budgetary allotments, and personal anecdotes that will tell you if what you are funding is indeed a success.
It is up to you to come up with law to be sure that past experiences are not repeated, and that even if Oklahoma continues with its faith-based office, that rules and regulations are in place to prevent the Texas scenario from happening here. And I should point out that is not only a Texas problem, as the state of Georgia is currently dealing with a landmark lawsuit over employment discrimination at a faith-based home for children that will have national ramifications.
So, how do you do it?
A couple of recommendations for this committee to ponder:
First, pass legislation requiring religious organizations who wish to receive Oklahoma dollars to be certified 501(c)3 organizations – no exceptions. Codify into law that these organizations must be separate entities from their religious denominations. The separate 501(c)(3) would protect the house of worship from intrusive government audits and provide a legal barrier between the church and the state. In addition, the government would be able to freely audit the separate 501(c)(3) without intruding in church affairs.
Along with the above recommendation, as state legislators, you can make it easier for these religious charities to incorporate as separate entities when it comes to state filings by easing requirements as far as fees and the expedition of paperwork through what has commonly been called an EZ pass.
Second, please do not put yourself in a situation where you are in any way supporting and endorsing employment discrimination based on religious identity with taxpayer dollars. Review your employment laws to ensure that there are specific provisions banning employment discrimination based on religion when using public dollars.
Third, on the subject of proselytization, as state legislators, you should include protections in state social service contracts to prohibit proselytization during the provision of social services.
Fourth, Professional Licensing Standards: State legislators should ask for a review of licensing standards to ensure that existing religious exemptions will not apply to publicly funded programs.
Licensing is generally the purview of states and localities. Previous versions of Charitable Choice have sought to override state educational and licensing requirements for drug counselors of religious providers. While those attempts have been largely rejected, there still remains the issue of licensing across the multitude of programs. Religious providers performing privately funded services have often been accorded exemptions from various state and local licensing requirements. A review should be undertaken to see what exemptions are in place at the state and local level and if those exemptions would remain in place when operating a public program.
And finally, do not let anyone tell you that because you are seeking to hold faith-based charities accountable to professional standards that you are not good and decent people of faith. Indeed, you are being the voices for people of need who may feel that they have no other place to turn. These are often the people who we refer to as the voiceless. You need to be their voice; you need to be sure that in the most vulnerable of times, that they are getting quality care that meets professional standards. Just because an organization claims to be faith-based does not mean that it gets a “free pass” when it comes to being held accountable by the public.
We believe that there is indeed a partnership to be had between religion and government in which the faithful amongst us play a significant role in addressing the greatest needs of our society. But friends, simply put, this isn’t it.
Thank you again for inviting me here today to hear the perspective of The Interfaith Alliance and if there is anything we can do to assist you in this process, please call on us. We want to help.
C. Welton Gaddy is the Executive Director or the national organization of The Interfaith Alliance.
Note: Dr. Gaddy's flight from Dallas to Oklahoma City was cancelled on the morning of 9/11/03 and he was unable to deliver this speech to the committee himself. Dr. Bruce Prescott, President of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United, read a copy of this speech to the Special Committee in Dr. Gaddy's absence.
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