Equal Treatment

The Faith-Based Initiative: An Introduction

The faith-based initiative is the federal, state, and local effort to ensure that the neighbor-serving work of faith-based and grassroots organizations is honored by society and appropriately supported by government and private donors. This was a signature initiative of the Bush administration, yet the original reforms stem from the Clinton years; the initiative is in a transitional phase at the start of the Obama administration. Many states, both Democratic and Republican, along with the US Conference of Mayors, have established their own offices to encourage faith-based and community-based organizations.

Between 1996 and 2008, the initiative changed the church-state rules that apply when federal funds are used to purchase social services from private organizations. The aim is a level playing field: equal opportunity for faith-based organizations and for smaller organizations to seek support, along with larger, secular, and long-established service providers. The new rules enable churches and religious nonprofits to be involved without suppressing their religious character, while honoring constitutional guidelines and safeguarding the rights of people seeking help. The new rules apply whether the federal funds are spent by federal, state, or local officials.

This website provides an introduction to the standards and goals of the faith-based initiative, guidance for officials on bringing government policies and practices into line, and advice for faith-based organizations on how—and whether—to seek government support. Use the links at left to explore these topics further.

The faith-based initiative succeeds when faith-based service providers have a fair chance to obtain government funds without first minimizing their religion. It also succeeds when faith-based organizations are courageous to turn away from government funds if the accompanying requirements will hamper the success of their services or their religious integrity.

The Center for Public Justice supports faith-based initiatives insofar as they advance our goals to strengthen the independent organizations of civil society, promote justice in government's relations with nongovernmental organizations, ensure equal treatment of citizens and institutions of all religions and no religion, and advance religious freedom for institutions as well as individuals. We invite you to learn more about the Center's vision of religious and social pluralism.