Bishop Robert J. Baker supports the direction President Bush is taking to establish a White House office that would distribute public money to religious groups and charities.
“Religious institutions and churches can work hand-in-hand effectively with our government to meet the charitable needs facing society today,” he said.
“In many communities the only charitable agencies open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to feed the hungry and give shelter to the needy are agencies operated by churches, sometimes individually and sometimes collectively.
“When government funding for mental health facilities was cut back, people on the streets went to churches for assistance. Churches opened soup kitchens and shelters.
These churches depended on their respective communities for support. The people involved in these charities were motivated by their religious convictions in helping the needy. It was precisely the faith of these people that led to their involvement.
“If receiving government funds means having to dispense with the religious symbols associated with their faith, I believe many religious charitable groups would prefer not to receive government funds.
“Criteria for government funding would involve the following:
• Funds would need to be distributed equitably to religious groups engaged in charity, calling for an oversight agency composed of representatives of various faith groups.
• The charitable agency being considered should be open to assisting people of all faiths. A track record of viability of the program, acceptance by a community, and proper means of record-keeping and accountability should be demonstrated, necessitating that a program already be in existence for a minimum of five years to qualify for assistance. The charitable agency would be associated with a religious community that is recognized by the respective state and certified as a non-profit religious/church community.
• The government should respect the religious-based charitable agencies’ display of religious symbols which reflect the faith associated with the service.
• A funding preference would be given for religious-based charities that are the result of religious/church communities working together, though this would not be the sole criterion for funding.”