American Jewish Committee Co-Sponsors Interfaith Dialogue on Government Funding of Faith-Based Social Services

February 27, 2001

February 27, 2001 -  NEW YORK -- A two-year initiative aimed at finding common ground among diverse religious and public interest groups on government funding of social services provided by religious organizations issued today its landmark report, “In Good Faith: A Dialogue on Government Funding of Faith-Based Social Services.”

The initiative is co-sponsored by the American Jewish Committee and the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History at Temple University, and funded by a major grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Other faith groups participating in the project included organizations representing Baptists, Evangelicals, Catholics and Muslims.

“The extensive process leading to this document resulted from an honest exchange of views among disparate groups on government funding of faith-based social services,” said Richard Foltin, legislative director and counsel of the American Jewish Committee and one of the drafters of the report. “Our ability to clarify areas of agreement and disagreement will play an important role in informing policy makers and the public at large about the ongoing debate.”

More than 17 religious, charitable, civil rights and educational organizations signed the final document. While there were important areas of agreement concerning the parameters for government funding of religious organizations that provide social services, the groups remain deeply divided on “charitable choice,” a construct first enacted into law in 1996 that promotes, among other things, government funding of social services provided by pervasively religious organizations, such as houses of worship.

The American Jewish Committee is strongly opposed to “charitable choice” because it undermines governmental neutrality toward religion and promotes government-funded discrimination. It also jeopardizes beneficiaries’ rights to religious liberty, and threatens the autonomy and vitality of religion and religious liberty.

The report sketches out the reasons for this position, but equal weight is given to the views expressed by those who support “charitable choice” as a means to expand existing modes by which government finances religious organizations in providing social services.

“This report is evidence that people with vastly different philosophies can agree on some ways for government and religious organizations to cooperate while maintaining some principled differences on the subject,” said Dr. Murray Friedman, director of AJC’s Philadelphia Chapter and Director of the Feinstein Center. “Principled debate must continue, but it should not obscure substantive agreements or thwart consensus solutions to community needs.”

While not every organization signing the project’s final report, “In Good Faith,” agrees with every statement in the document, all organizations participating in the two-year dialogue hope that the document will provide useful insights for government officials, social service providers and beneficiaries this complex and sensitive area of government funding of faith-based social service activities.


Contact: Kenneth Bandler (212) 891-6771

        Lisa Fingeret Roth (212) 891-1385

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