Down And Out In Baltimore: Who Gets Hurt When Bush Sweetens The 'Faith-Based' Pot

Baltimore, Md., suffers from many of the problems that beset most urban centers in America today. Rampant poverty and the blights that follow it plague neighborhoods that were once bastions of prosperity.

For the last half century, non-profit organizations of all kinds have worked to stop crime, to redevelop crumbling neighborhoods, to stop the cycle of drug addition and to improve areas that most of America has forgotten. These organizations largely depend on government grants that are being slashed in President George W. Bush's latest budget proposals to Congress.

As The Washington Post reports, the president is cutting funds for traditional programs that deal with the crisis of urban centers. Public housing subsidies, food stamps, energy assistance, community development, social services and community block grants are all on the chopping block. Instead, Bush is pushing for increased funding to "faith-based" groups, arguing that they are cheaper and more effective.

Edna Reynolds, the director of Project ARISE, a Christian HIV and drug abuse prevention organization, told the Post that she is hard pressed to say just how effective the program is. "I don't get to see their success," she said of her clients. "But I feel we have to be here for them. When they leave here, I have to feel that we planted a seed with them."

This is a disturbing perspective because the funds being given to "plant seeds" in drug addicts are being taken away from secular organizations that are required to quantitatively measure their success.

It is constitutionally problematic to base government services on "faith;" it defies reason to measure effectiveness by it when the budget belt is tightening.

As he lobbies Congress for authorization for his "faith-based" initiatives, the president claims that he is interested in leveling the playing field for religious organizations. He claims that the current system discriminates against religious groups and so we need to change the law to allow them to keep their religious character and to discriminate with government dollars in whom they hire. Such changes will not guarantee or improve their effectiveness.

As the law stands, religious groups are eligible for government money. Jewish, Catholic, Methodist and many other social service non-profits have received grants and contracts for years. Instead of getting a special pass from the government because they are religious, they have been expected to perform as well as the groups they compete with for funds.

As Douglas Rice, director of housing and community development policy for Catholic Charities USA, told the Post, "If you don't substantially increase the resources that are available, this is going to increase competition for funds."

That doesn't sound like it helps anybody.