I tend to be supportive of faith-based alternatives in state funded social programs and education for a variety of reasons. For better or worse, we live in a time and place in which most such services are going to be publicly funded. To exclude faith based approaches is to eliminate a set of approaches that might be quite effective and sends a message about the propriety of faith-based perspectives in the public square.
Such approaches must be carefully designed to avoid compulsion and to ensure the availability of secular alternatives. But government should also avoid the temptation to remake faith-based approaches in its own image. I am opposed, therefore, to the expansion of federal and local civil rights laws to the extent it interferes with the ability of faith-based organizations to hire for mission, i.e., to prefer hires who share the group’s religious presuppositions.
A move to include faith-based approaches to education and social services necessarily implies a philosophical diversity and the facilitation of intermediary institutions that may not share all of the state’s preferred values. This may require staying the hand of the state in defining just what faith-based programs ought to entail. If, for example, there are other adoption agencies in Massachusetts who would provide service to same-sex couples, it is unclear to me why we ought to insist that Catholic Charities abandon Roman Catholic doctrine and do the same, even if that doctrine is contrary to state policy.
Nor do I believe that the IRS, in the guise of policing restrictions on tax exempt organizations, ought to strictly manage the “political” content of speech by religious organizations. Putting aside the full panopoly of issues raised by the recent “Pulpit Sunday” sponsored by the Alliance Defense Fund, it is one thing to prohibit direct electioneering and another to restrict speech thought to have “too much” political content. I have in mind the move of the IRS against All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. During the 2004 election, the preacher, while explicitly disavowing the endorsement of either candidate, imagined a conversation between Jesus Christ, John Kerry, and George W. Bush on the Iraq War. The content of the sermon was such as to suggest that Jesus would not be voting Republican.
The IRS ultimately declared that the church had broken the law, although it did not, in the end, move to rescind its tax exemption. I think that was mistaken. The IRS ought not to presume that it can distinguish between what it religious and what is political.
So my hope is that the next President will show support for, but exercise a light hand toward faith-based service providers and tax-exempt religious organizations.