Editorial: Will faith-based hurt state more than help it?

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 24, 2005

Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently announced Minnesota is joining President Bush’s effort to provide more government funding to faith-based initiatives. We understand the potential rewards of this concept. A faith community’s human capital has the potential to reach much deeper than virtually any other entity &045; public or private. Multiply that by all the faiths in this nation, and the effects could be profound.

But this faith-based philosophy has risks. And when those risks are considered with how Minnesotans already address this issue, it’s very fair to ask if the governor’s move will ultimately hurt more than help.

Since Bush unveiled his idea in 2001, it has repeatedly faced questions about whether it essentially uses taxpayer dollars to promote religion &045; any religion &045; or fuel discrimination. The good news is that roughly 20 states have councils similar to what Pawlenty has ordered, and no courts have ruled them out of bounds.

Email newsletter signup

In addition, Pawlenty’s announcement already has drawn the ire of groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is set to sue several other states for similar initiatives. The Madison, Wis.-based foundation says the efforts violate the separation of church and state.

Pawlenty’s plan is to create a 15-member Council on Faith and Community Service Initiatives later this year. It will have an executive director and a $175,000 budget for the next two years. Its goal &045; much like the federal-level effort &045; is to provide easier access to federal aid for faith groups, which can use the money to help the less fortunate. The council won’t award grants, which are to be used for secular purposes only.

What’s interesting, though, is whether creating yet another bureaucracy will really result in the best use of taxpayer dollars.

But is access really easier with so much more government? Not to mention that if markedly more groups receive aid, the amount of actual dollars going directly to helping the poor will be diluted simply because more recipients mean more administrative costs.

Now … and later

Several leaders of faith communities statewide have raised another good point: Minnesota already has a strong relationship between government and religious groups that provide social services. These run through agencies affiliated with faiths but that agree not to discriminate based on religion. They also provide high-quality services.

Will this new plan jeopardize those connections and the quality of service?

That’s hard to say. But overall what becomes clear in examining the faith-based concept is that it raises a much broader question: Can government and faith communities straddle the fine line of fairness? Or is the best answer to have only one of those two helping the less fortunate?

Minnesota may be about to find out.

&045; St. Cloud Times