- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2001

Leaders of ministries eligible for funding under the 1996 charitable-choice law say their greatest obstacle is state regulation, especially on credentials required to help people with problems.
"An elitism that pervades both left and right has prevented us from utilizing effective grassroots remedies," said a report titled "Barriers to Faith-Based and Community Initiatives."
The report by the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, which surveyed 100 local groups and 22 leaders of ministries that work on welfare, family or drug problems, said that financial accountability with government funds is essential.
"But there are other requirements — usually imposed to protect the professional industry — that need to be carefully scrutinized," the report said.
The 43-page study is the latest effort by supporters of President Bush's faith-based initiative to argue that local overregulation and fear of church-state entanglement have intimidated ministries eligible to bid for government grants.
"Unless this issue is addressed, charitable choice will remain out of reach for many faith-based and community organizations," said Robert L. Woodson Sr., an urban activist and president of the center.
Last October, the Center for Public Justice reported that since the 1996 law, 40 states had done nothing to promote and enforce the policy locally.
The Bush initiative, announced in January, included an office in five federal departments to ensure that discrimination against religious groups was not happening in the national or local offices that made grants.
The new report, issued July 17, suggests that the most common obstacle is denial of eligibility because ministry staff lack a university or board credential or membership in a social-worker union.
"Certification should be based upon qualification and demonstrated effectiveness," the report said. "Peer review mechanisms should be investigated."
Although the debate on separation of church and state has dominated the Washington debate, now local regulation has come to the fore.
The House bill to expand charitable choice passed July 19 on a 233-198 vote with a provision that exempts religious groups from local regulations such as providing "domestic partner" benefits to homosexual employees.
Some Democrats, who will determine whether a Senate charitable-choice bill passes, have said that such local exemptions for religious groups that oppose homosexuality is a violation of civil rights.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, has said that a Senate bill might include protection for homosexual rights when a ministry receives federal funds.
On Sunday, the Rev. Mark Scott, a black official in the White House initiative, assured participants in the National Urban League meeting here this week that "we're not trying to change the civil rights laws, traditions, landscape one iota" in keeping the federal exemption for religious groups.
An Urban League poll found that 50 percent of black respondents backed the Bush initiative, and minority leaders have said they worry that white ministries will discriminate or get unfair advantage in bidding for federal funds.
But Mr. Woodson said the debate "should stop dwelling on the question of money, and focus instead on the real barriers that inhibit" religious groups from taking advantage of the 1996 law.

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