Sunday, December 27, 2009

Faith-based Initiatives and Charitable Choice

Saturday, Jan 9, 1:30 pm Public and FREE

Toni Van Pelt
Vice President, Center for Inquiry, 
Director, Office of Public Policy,
Washington, D.C.

National Science Foundation, Room 110
4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington,VA

The Obama administration recently announced an expansion of government funding for so-called "faith-based initiatives," in which taxpayer dollars are doled out to sectarian religious organizations for the performance of social service programs.  This government funding raises legal and constitutional concerns that the administration has yet to address directly.  In February, the Center for Inquiry produced a position paper that called for an end to government funding of faith-based programs.  Because government funding is scheduled to continue, the Center for Inquiry further recommended the adoption and vigorous enforcement of specific minimum safeguards to protect church-state separation and religious liberty.

CFI performed a detailed historical study of federal funding for faith-based programs, extending from the rise of "charitable choice" legislation during the Clinton administration through the explosion of taxpayer funding for religious programs under George W. Bush's Faith Based and Community Initiative.  The position paper that resulted from this study expresses deep misgivings about government funding of sectarian religious programs.  CFI cited concerns that these programs may use taxpayer dollars to support or favor religious activities and beliefs; that government may give preference to particular religious organizations in doling out funds; and that under current standards, recipients of taxpayer funding for faith-based programs are allowed to engage in employment discrimination on the basis of religion.

CFI's position paper recommends that government funding of faith-based programs be eliminated entirely.  CFI's paper endorses a limited exception for truly secular social services programs, such as Catholic Charities, that have some affiliation with a religious institution but are provided by independent 501(c)(3) charities.  CFI maintains that such charities must conduct social service programs without religious content or materials and without engaging in religious discrimination.  (Catholic Charities is a non-profit corporation separate and distinct from the Catholic Church.)

CFI's paper further recommends that if taxpayer funding of faith-based programs continues, certain minimum safeguards should be implemented and enforced.  Specifically, CFI recommends that such programs should be barred from discriminating against both beneficiaries and employees on the basis of religion; that such programs should be monitored vigorously to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to fund religious worship, instruction, or proselytization; and that government must treat programs conducted by religious and secular organizations equally in granting funds, measuring performance, and monitoring for compliance.

Toni Van Pelt will discuss the Center for Inquiry's position paper, its recommendations, and describe how the CFI Office of Public Policy lobbies Congress on these issues. 

Toni Van Pelt is Vice President and Director of Public Policy of the Center for Inquiry in Washington DC. She has successfully introduced the Center for Inquiry into the world of National legislative and policy communities. As the lobbyist for the Center she asks Congressional members and staff to base law and policy on scientific fact and empirical evidence as opposed to faith. She lobbies for state church separation; women and lesbian-gay rights; and defense of democracy and secularism. She participates in coalitions with like-minded organizations on issues of mutual concern.

Before moving to Washington, Toni was the first Executive Director for the Center for Inquiry-Florida. Before that, she was the president of Florida National Organization for Women (NOW) where she learning her lobbying with the Federal and Florida legislatures. She helped write and establish new law in Florida. She is a veteran of Congressional and state political campaigns for candidates and for ballot initiatives and on issues campaigns. She ran for national president of NOW and came within 30 votes of being elected to the office.

Toni has been interviewed by national and international media, including press, radio, internet and broadcast. Her past career as the owner of a travel agency specializing in international travel has given her the opportunity to expand her worldview through global travel. As director of the Center for Inquiry's Travel Club, she has connected her past career in travel and business with her commitment to skepticism and secular humanism.