Religious organizations applying for federal money and those needing help from faith-based organizations will benefit after the Obama administration completes the planning stage of some proposed rule changes to the White House Faith-Based & Community Initiative.

While Article VI of the United States Constitution describes a separation between church and state, that same article has disqualified many community public social service faith-based (religious) nonprofits of government funding. When faith-based religious groups offer food or housing assistance to the needy, bureaucratic wording of these laws can be misinterpreted. Unfortunately in many cases, the government has denied the faith based nonprofit organization from providing services to those most in need. 

According to the August 5, 2015 Executive Order 13559, "The proposed rules clarify the principle that organizations offering explicitly religious activities may not subsidize those activities with direct federal financial assistance and must separate such activities in time or location from programs supported with direct federal financial assistance.  For example, if a faith-based provider offers a Bible study as well as a federally supported job training program, the Bible study must be privately funded and separated in time or location from the job training program. "

Change is coming and thanks to new rules being outlined by the White House, religious organizations will have a greater chance at receiving government funding and grant acceptance once they have applied for these social service programs

First started by President George W. Bush in 2002 titled the White House Faith-Based & Community Initiative, faith-based and community organizations (FBCO) could apply for some of the billions of dollars set aside by federal agencies to be used for social service grant programs. Problems have been identified when the wording in the program might deem some goodwill activities as an “inherently religious” act. 

In a scenario played out all too many times, if a religious denomination wants to bring in homeless and hungry individuals into its church for hot food, government agencies in charge of distributing the social service money might see this as an “explicit religious activity.” Not being able to properly determine that there is no religious motivation on the part of the church for strictly feeding and providing shelter for those in need might result in a refusal of funding and/or grants. 

Once these rules take effect they will attempt to successfully protect the religious freedoms of those receiving social services from government funded programs. Religious providers will have equal access to government grants and will be able to utilize religious language in documents, mission statements, pamphlets and other written material.  Those being the beneficiaries of the services will not have to worry about being kicked out of a shelter or a drug rehabilitation meeting because they choose not to pray. In general terms, the rules will protect religious institutions, organizations and those seeking help.

“Political interference” has also been addressed. The changes pertaining to this issue will prevent government agencies from interfering in the grants process. The newly proposed changes are emphatic in that these agencies cannot act favorable or unfavorable based on the religious affiliations, or a lack thereof, of the faith-based religious groups. Favoritism will not be tolerated. 

This is a controversial issue that does not come without its detractors. Church-state separationists and taxpayers that oppose a specific religious belief do not want their tax dollars supporting that belief. On the opposing side FBCOs have the supporting structure that can mobilize volunteers. FBCOs have the passion, organization and manpower needed to solve community issues and keep themselves informed.  

One area that the new rules will not address is hiring discrimination of potential employees based on their faith. FBCO that have been approved for government funding and/or grants will not be placed under a microscope or questioned for this religious discrimination during a hiring process.

This is a big step for the government to make in terms of how money will be awarded to faith-based religious groups looking to make a difference in those that need a wide array of assistance. A few hurdles will face these prospected rule changes. First is a timetable of 60 days for public opinion to commence. Expect much more news to come surrounding FBCOs and funding.


Promoting Common-Ground Reforms of Social Service Partnerships