This Friday, the national PBS news program Now with Bill Moyers will take an extensive look at how faith-based welfare programs are testing the hallowed constitutional line between church and state.
Produced by William Brangham (a Colorado College graduate) and reported by NPR correspondent Daniel Zwerdling, the 20-minute segment begins in the Colorado Springs welfare office, where the voices of a group of people praying can be heard throughout a maze of cubicles.
"Until recently, you would have never seen a group of welfare workers praying out loud in the middle of a government office," narrates Zwerdling as the camera finds Jackie Jaramillo, a welfare worker for Faith Partners, leading a prayer with two of her co-workers. "The courts said God and government should be more separate. But President Bush wants groups like this one to take over more and more of the government's role of helping people in trouble."
Until recently, programs like Faith Partners were forced by law to keep their religious affiliations and intentions separate from the services they offer to the needy. But the 1996 "Ashcroft Amendment" to the Welfare Reform Act changed the rules, saying that religious organizations could compete for federal grants for welfare-to-work projects.
"The language is very fuzzy, but it said they didn't have to hide their religious identity," said Brangham. "The deal was that you couldn't talk about religion, but the question now is: How much talking about Jesus or Allah will there be?"
On Jan. 29, 2001, Bush created the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives (OFBCI), which drastically widened the ability of faith-based organizations to receive government money. Faith Partners, for example, receives $130,000 in taxpayer money annually to help families in need, as long as they don't proselytize.
And herein lies the crux of the story: When does "helping" become "proselytizing."
To illustrate this precarious issue, Now follows Dawn Chipperfield, an abuse survivor and a single mother with three young children living in Colorado Springs, who chose to work with Faith Partners when she entered the welfare system. As part of the program, Chipperfield is paired with the Machina family -- Christian volunteers who commit to helping Chipperfield for at least one year.
Though Chipperfield is at first grateful for the help, the "invitations" to join them at church become increasingly problematic.
When Now speaks with Barry Farrah, the board president of Faith Partners, he freely admits that part of the program is "inviting [welfare clients] to explore the contents of the faith in God through Jesus Christ, which is the Christian faith."
Faith Partners worker Jaramillo goes so far as to admit that Faith Partners has a "covert mission," and that it is covert because they receive government money.
Faith Partners was chosen for the segment because, says Brangham, "We were looking for a group that had been receiving money from the government for a long time, and one that was held up as a model, and Faith Partners fit the bill."
Brangham said he recently learned that Faith Partners has "applied to the Bush administration for a multimillion-dollar grant to establish a Faith Partners training program in Colorado to teach people how to run a program just like theirs."
-- Noel Black
capsule Now with Bill Moyers
Friday, Sept. 26 at 9 p.m.
PBS (Channel 8 in Colorado Springs)
Check local listings to confirm.
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