Faith strategy probed

By Jennifer Whytock

Contrary to White House assumptions, faith-based groups may not be more effective than secular groups at providing social services, a new study says.

Job-placement programs run by religious groups, for example, placed 31 percent of participants in full-time jobs, compared to 53 percent placed by secular job programs, say researchers at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Since 1996, federal and state governments have been able to contract more easily with religious groups to provide social services because of legislation dubbed “charitable choice.”

President Bush has expanded on that effort with his faith-based initiative, including an executive order he issued Sept. 22 that lets groups get government contracts even if they hire based on religion.

While the government is easing restrictions on contracts with faith-based groups, it is not educating those groups about compliance with the U.S. Constitution, including the requirement for keeping church and state separate, nor is it monitoring them for constitutional violations, says the new Charitable Choice Research Project.

The study concedes that its research is limited and that broad conclusions should not be made, but it argues that its findings raise important questions that challenge long-held beliefs about the effectiveness of faith-based social services.

The Center for Urban Policy and the Environment, part of IUPUI, researched faith-based groups in Indiana, North Carolina and Massachusetts for the study, the first-ever academic comparison of faith-based and secular social service providers.

Throughout the fall, PBS will air “Tempting Faith,” a one-hour documentary, based on the study, about the pros and cons of faith-based initiatives.

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