In fact, the government has a long history of working with sectarian organizations to care for the needy. In 1980, Congress passed legislation that allowed groups such as Catholic Charities, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and World Vision to assist refugees to the United States, providing direct financial aid through these groups, as well as training and other services. President Bush's faith-based initiative modestly expanded the ability of religious groups to deliver social services. All religious groups that receive government money, however, must strictly ensure that it not be used to fund inherently religious activities, must separate out funds that are used for religious purposes and demonstrate that they have done so to the government's satisfaction. These groups can't discriminate in providing services to those who don't share their religious views or belong to different religions, although they may restrict their hiring to co-religionists.
Faith-based groups are often a more effective provider of services to the needy than large, impersonal government bureaucracies. If there was any lesson learned from Katrina and Rita it ought to be that government frequently doesn't perform up to expectations. It makes no sense to penalize the very groups that readily took up the slack when government and even large private groups like the Red Cross were overwhelmed at the crisis that engulfed this country. In fact, the government ought to look to expand the reach of these groups to serve the victims in rebuilding their lives.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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