Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Executive Order Adopts New Criteria For Organizations Receiving Faith-Based Grants

President Obama today signed an executive order (full text) making changes in the operations of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.  As reported in a press release from the Baptist Joint Committee, the order implements many of the recommendations made in February by a task force on reform of the faith-based office. (See prior posting).  However the Executive Order does not implement a split recommendation that houses of worship use separately incorporated affiliates to receive federal grant funds. (The recommendations were published as part of a larger report last March. See prior posting.) Today's Executive Order, titled Fundamental Principles and Policymaking Criteria for Partnerships with Faith-Based and Other Neighborhood Organizations, includes the following directives:
(c)  No organization should be discriminated against on the basis of religion or religious belief in the administration or distribution of Federal financial assistance under social service programs.
(d) ... [O]rganizations, in providing services supported in whole or in part with Federal financial assistance, and in their outreach activities related to such services, should not be allowed to discriminate against current or prospective program beneficiaries on the basis of religion, a religious belief, a refusal to hold a religious belief, or a refusal to attend or participate in a religious practice.
(e)  The Federal Government must implement Federal programs in accordance with the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause ... and must monitor and enforce standards ... in ways that avoid excessive entanglement between religious bodies and governmental entities.
(f)  Organizations that engage in explicitly religious activities (including activities that involve overt religious content such as worship, religious instruction, or proselytization) must perform such activities and offer such services outside of programs that are supported with direct Federal financial assistance ..., separately in time or location from any such programs or services supported with direct Federal financial assistance, and participation in any such explicitly religious activities must be voluntary for the beneficiaries of the social service program supported with such Federal financial assistance.
(g) ...  [A] faith-based organization that applies for, or participates in, a social service program supported with Federal financial assistance may retain its independence and may continue to carry out its mission, including the definition, development, practice, and expression of its religious beliefs, provided that it does not use direct Federal financial assistance ... to support or engage in any explicitly religious activities (including activities that involve overt religious content such as worship, religious instruction, or proselytization)....  [Organizations] may use their facilities to provide social services supported with Federal financial assistance, without removing or altering religious art, icons, scriptures, or other symbols from these facilities. In addition, a faith-based organization may retain religious terms in its name, select its board members on a religious basis, and include religious references in its organization's mission statements and other chartering or governing documents.
 (h)  ... If a beneficiary or prospective beneficiary of a social service program supported by Federal financial assistance objects to the religious character of an organization that provides services under the program, that organization shall, within a reasonable time after the date of the objection, refer the beneficiary to an alternative provider....
The Executive Order also sets up a Working Group to draft a set of model regulations and guidance documents for adoption by federal agencies involved in distributing funds.