Two Cheers for OFANP

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Or at least its Advisory Council. A year in, Faith-Based 2.0 (aka the Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships) has come in for a fair amount of snarking, most notably from David Waters on WaPo’s Under God blog, but also from this corner. Because its mission has broadened to the point of fuzziness and its activities have been more anodyne than newsworthy, it’s been easy to miss the significance of what’s been going on.

And that consists above all in the Report that the 25 members of the OFANP Advisory Council have been laboring over lo these many months. Their several task forces have delivered reports with recommendations for the Administration on engaging the faith community on issues ranging from the environment and global poverty to fatherhood and economic recovery. I’ve read through the drafts and, yes, many of the recommendations do not go beyond the kinds of pious wishes you would expect from 25 varied professionals of good will. But that’s not at all true for the recommendations from the task force on the reform of the office itself.

In particular, recommendations 4-10 on “strengthening constitutional and legal footing of partnerships” (see after jump) would go a long way towards addressing some of the major problems created by the Bush Administration’s all-out effort to get faith-based organizations into the act of social service provision without restraint or accountability. And these reflect consensus positions on the need for assuring church-state separation that have been adopted by Catholics, Orthodox Jews, and evangelicals as well as the usual separationist suspects.

To be sure, the Administration took the thorny issue of faith-based hiring off the Council’s plate. And on a couple of issues–separate incorporation of entities receiving federal funds and the display of religious imagery–no consensus could be reached. And, of course, there’s many a slip between an advisory council’s recommendations and actual implementation in an amended executive order and/or federal regs.

Still, what the Council puts forward in the next month or so as the right way to do faith-based social service provision will be hard to ignore. And on the ground, it will make a difference.

Strengthening Constitutional
and Legal Footing of Partnerships

Recommendation 4:  Strengthen
Constitutional and Legal Footing of Partnerships and Improve Communications
Regarding White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and Agency Centers.

Recommendation 5:  Clarify Prohibited Uses
of Direct Federal Financial Assistance.

Recommendation 6:  Equally Emphasize
Separation Requirements and Protections for Religious Identity.

Recommendation 7:  State More Clearly the
Distinction Between “Direct” and “Indirect” Aid.

Recommendation 8:  Increase Transparency Regarding Federally Funded

Recommendation 9:  Improve Monitoring of
Constitutional, Statutory, and Regulatory Requirements that Accompany Federal
Social Service Funds.

Recommendation 10:  Assure the Religious
Liberty Rights of the Clients and Beneficiaries of Federally Funded Programs by
Strengthening Appropriate Protections.