- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Urban ministries using federal welfare funds do not lose their religious identities and are not experiencing government interference, a new study said yesterday.

The study of programs in four major cities also found that creating a secular arm to accept the funds does not dilute the religious aspects of the welfare services.

"Government officials seem willing to fund them without asking too many questions," said Stephen Monsma, a political science professor at Pepperdine University and an early researcher on religion and welfare in Europe and the United States. Mr. Monsma looked at every such project in Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Commissioned by the Manhattan Institute and a University of Pennsylvania center on religion and urban life, the research contradicts the belief that small religious groups lose their religious motives and identities when using federal funds. It is one of several new studies trying to understand the number and kinds of government-aided faith-based welfare services.

Taking government money does not determine whether a group becomes secular or bureaucratic, but "the organization itself" does, said Mr. Monsma.

There still is "some discrimination" because secular welfare groups get far more funding, Mr. Monsma said. But the report otherwise portrayed a smoothly running social trend.

"The capacity of faith-based programs now is small, but they plan to expand that capacity," he said.

John DiIulio, a former Bush White House official on faith-based policy now with the university and institute, said the report is some of the best data so far on the topic.

"It draws conclusions that neither people on the right nor the left will find easy to digest," he said.

After Mr. Bush announced the faith-based initiative, critics on the left said religious groups would abuse the government money by coercing people or discriminating. Critics on the right said the money would secularize religious groups.

Mr. Monsma said that in these cities at least, neither worry has materialized.

Harvard's Elaine Kamarck, who guided welfare reform at the Clinton White House, said the study shows that faith-based ministries operate as "innovative networks."

"This was already all over the country," she said. Ministries still may coerce people, especially in rural areas, she said, but she rejected the "firestorm of criticism" that Democratic Party secularists heap on faith-based policy.

A 1996 charitable choice law allowed ministries to receive more funds to help with welfare reform.

The more conservative panelists, Joe Loconte of the Heritage Foundation and Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute, warned of how bureaucracy can kill effective ministry but Mr. Loconte was upbeat about the findings.

Mr. Murray, however, was critical. "The report does not talk about the effectiveness of programs" that take government funds.

He said the study hints that "increasing government involvement in these organizations has already diminished their effectiveness" both in using religion to change people and in drawing volunteers.

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