Revised rules for government's faith-based partners issued for comment

Patricia Zapor

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Nine federal agencies have issued proposed rules to clarify some aspects of social service partnerships with religious institutions.

In proposed rules posted to the Federal Register Aug. 5, the agencies seek to clarify the boundary lines between religious activities and tax-dollar-supported activities of faith-based organizations that contract with the federal government.

Writing in a blog for her office's website, Melissa Rogers, director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, gave some examples of situations that the advisory council had asked to be clarified.

Among the points the rules make, Rogers wrote: "Organizations offering explicitly religious activities may not subsidize those activities with direct federal financial assistance and must separate such activities in time or location from programs supported with direct federal financial assistance.

"For example, if a faith-based provider offers a Bible study as well as a federally supported job training program, the Bible study must be privately funded and separated in time or location from the job training program," Rogers wrote.

She also noted that the new policies make clear "that beneficiaries may not be discriminated against on the basis of religion or religious belief or be required to participate in any religious activities." The rules also specify that people who receive services under such partnerships may request referrals to other providers if they object to the religious character of an organization that provides a service.

The revised rules were the result of recommendations of the Advisory Council for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Prior to becoming director of the agency, Rogers chaired the council.

Rogers added that the rules also reiterate that religious providers may compete equally for government funds for service programs without sacrificing their religious identity. For instance, she said providers may use religious terms in their names, and can include religious references in their mission statements and organizational documents.

"These areas have been sources of confusion for some providers," she wrote.

The rules affect: the departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, and Veterans Affairs; and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

There is a 60-day comment period before the rules will be finalized.


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