Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Fwd: Is Giving to Faith-Based Organizations Different?

eNews for Faith-Based Organizations
June 18, 2013

Editor: Stanley Carlson-Thies 
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In this issue
New "Faith in Giving" Coalition
HHS Contraceptives Mandate--August 1 Deadline
Expand Foster Care by Shrinking the Number of Agencies?!
Worth Reading
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New "Faith in Giving" Coalition

Faith-based service organizations, like other nonprofits, are dependent on private giving and thus count on tax incentives for giving, such as the federal deduction for charitable contributions. And yet, because they are religious organizations, they may have distinct interests in the big fight that has broken out in Washington DC and in state and local politics concerning tax breaks for donations and tax breaks for nonprofits themselves.


That's the premise of a new coalition just forming, tentatively called the "faith in giving" coalition. Its sparkplugs are Rhett Butler, government liaison for the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, and David Wills, President of the National Christian Foundation.


There are at least four areas where faith-based organizations, or many or most of them, may have concerns somewhat different from secular nonprofits--and from the public policy agendas of major nonprofit advocacy organizations:


1. Many faith-based organizations are extremely dependent on giving by individuals; for various reasons they receive little of their income from government sources, fees for service, corporate donors, or foundations. As such, their income is disproportionately (compared to other nonprofits) affected by changes in the tax incentives for individual giving, whereas other nonprofits may be more concerned about changes in government grants or declines in corporate giving due to economic changes, etc. However, this disproportionate dependence on individual giving may not be accurately reflected in the econometric models and expert testimony utilized by lawmakers in considering changes to tax policy.


2. Data sources that attempt to measure giving to various causes may not accurately reflect what goes on in the faith-based world. For example, giving to faith-based nonprofits might be categorized as giving to "church" and be presumed to be inwardly focused--overlooking both how those faith-based nonprofits serve the broader community and how churches themselves typically operate programs that serve non-members. In the same way, a narrow view of religion will neglect to take account of how congregations not only directly serve their neighbors through various programs but also more generally contribute to the flourishing of their communities and thus to the good of the needy.


3. Some in the secular world have little regard for religion as a positive force and are inclined to want to restrict tax incentives to "worthy" causes, such as nonprofits that are narrowly focused on anti-poverty programs. An important and growing strand of progressive thought seeks to limit tax exemptions and giving incentives to "public serving" charities--excluding from the category religious nonprofits that hire according to religion or that "discriminate" in services (e.g., do not facilitate abortions or recognize same-sex marriage). (Other activists have advocated that government, foundations, and corporate donors should require grantees to provide some fixed percentage of their services to various minorities, including sexual minorities, and to manifest certain forms of diversity among their staff and board memberships.)


4. Faith-based charities and their advocates have to be especially concerned about intrusive government rules, reporting requirements, and investigations (shades of the current revelations about IRS malfeasance) to protect the religious freedom of the religious organizations (here's the proper meaning of church-state separation). For example, policymakers may think they are just trying to obtain all legitimate revenue by restricting a tax exemption to the "worship" activities of a religious organization--but they may in the process illicitly be defining the other activities of the organization as not religious.


We can note, too, that giving to religious organizations--both houses of worship and faith-based service organizations--may be more resistant than secular giving to economic downturns because of the religious motivation and perspectives of the givers.


For such reasons, faith-based organizations, without neglecting to make common cause with other nonprofits, may need additionally to consider certain matters of specific concern to them as religious entities. That's the idea behind the emerging coalition.


Among other activities, the "faith in giving" coalition will monitor congressional hearings and legislative developments, meet with members of Congress, facilitate meetings by faith-based organizations with their congressional representatives, work to educate the media, and encourage the organizations to submit comments on tax reform proposals that might affect charitable giving.


For further information, contact Rhett Butler of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions (rbutler AT agrm.org).

HHS Contraceptives Mandate--August 1 Deadline                 


August 1 starts the clock again on the contraceptives mandate for faith-based service organizations such as religious schools, hospitals, and charities. Sort of.


Recall: the mandate is the requirement that the health insurance that employers buy for their employees must cover, without charge, a number of "preventive health services," including all FDA-approved birth control pills and devices, including emergency birth control drugs that may act as abortifacients. Grandfathered health plans are exempt. Churches are exempt. Businesses, no matter whether their owners have deep religious objections to the contraceptives or abortifacients, are not exempt--the Obama administration says organizations involved in commerce have no religious rights.


That leaves faith-based service organizations. They are not eligible for the exemption, which is limited to worship-type organizations, excluding faith-based organizations that provide faith-shaped and faith-inspired services such as education, health care, adoptions, development assistance, or drug treatment. The administration has promised, instead, an "accommodation." But no such accommodation has yet been actually created. In the meantime, the administration provided a "temporary enforcement safe harbor"--delaying the start date of the contraceptives mandate, for religious service organizations that are nonprofits (not for any businesses, not even for religious bookstores or publishers), until August 1, 2013. From that date onward, the mandate becomes active for the religious nonprofits as soon as they start a new insurance plan or their current plan begins a new year.


And what will the accommodation mean to them? No one knows for sure. The administration published proposed regulations on Feb. 6, 2013, but it has not yet published final regulations for religious service organizations that buy employee health insurance from an insurance company. And the administration has not even published proposed regulations for those service organizations that self-insure.


So there is a timing problem: the new plan year for some organizations might begin on August 1 or in September or October-giving little time to decide what to do even if the final regulations are published this week. If they self-insure they might not know for months what the regulations are.


And there is the problem of substance: the accommodation the administation has promised is not an exemption but rather is supposed to be some kind of mechanism which will require someone other than the employer or the employees to pay for the contraceptives and through which the employer can buy insurance that excludes some or all contraceptives while the employees nevertheless are given the contraceptive coverage whether or not they want it. Magic all around.


And there is a very practical problem for objecting faith-based service organizations: if they object to the contraceptives coverage and do not believe in the magic of the accommodation, there is little they can do to keep faith with their conscience.


* They can escape the contraceptives mandate by dropping health insurance--but, unless they are very small, they will be subject to a hefty annual penalty for doing that; they will have violated their conscience in another way if they are committed to providing health insurance to their employees; and they may lose valued employees if they drop health insurance. (An employer, after dropping the health insurance, could increase the employees' salaries to aid them in buying insurance on their own.)


* They can try to buy (or arrange, if they self-insure) insurance that really does not cover objectionable contraceptives, but insurance companies might not sell it to them (lest they be penalized themselves) and, if they can obtain such insurance, they will be subject to huge daily fines and to lawsuits from their employees.


* The organizations can hope--and work for--congressional passage of H.R. 940, the Health Care Conscience Rights Act.


* Or the religious organizations can sue the government, hoping a court will come to their aid and stop application of the mandate. Many religious nonprofits already have sued, and now that the mandate is near to coming into effect, the courts may take up their cases.


There is one other possibility: whether dropping health insurance, suing the government, advocating for the conscience bill, or buying insurance that is objectionable, the religious service organization can also send a protest letter to the President and to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, condemning the mandate and its violation of conscience and religious freedom. And send a copy of each letter to the editor of the New York Times and to the editor of the Washington Post. Big media outlets like these have done little to examine the religious freedom issues at stake, but instead have chided religious leaders and religious organizations for supposedly being anti-women and anti-birth control.


An outpouring of protest letters might help both the administration and the mass media come to understand the seriousness of the mandate's attack on the religious freedom of religious organizations, paving the way for a lifting of the burden.
Expand Foster Care By Shrinking the Number of Agencies?!

Here it is again, for a third Congress: the Every Child Deserves a Family act (HR 2028/S 1069). The argument goes: too many kids in the United States cannot find a foster or adoptive home, and the reason is that prospective foster or adoptive parents and some of the kids themselves are discriminated against because they are LGBT.  So the solution is to ban such discrimination by states and by private adoption and foster care agencies.


And yet, as should be plain to everyone, there is a huge difference between, on the one hand, requiring state governments not to prevent or impede LGBT adoptions and foster care, and on the other hand, requiring all private agencies to ignore marital status and sexual orientation when they recruit families and place children. The latter--as should also be plain to everyone, given what has happened in places such as Boston, Illinois, Washington DC, and San Francisco--is a great way to reduce, not expand, foster or permanent homes for children who need them, as faith-based agencies have to close their doors to avoid violating their convictions about how best to help the children.


On the other hand, as Colorado and New Jersey, among other states, have discovered, enlisting, rather than impeding, faith-based agencies that know how to reach out to churches is the way to expand, rather than contract, services for needy children.


The Every Child bill needs a religious exemption. Better yet, instead of this bill, the federal government should use its financial power to require all states to protect the missions of legitimate agencies, including the faith-based decisions of faith-based agencies.     
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Worth Reading

Peter Menzies, "Calgary City Soul: A Story of Urban Thriving," Comment online, June 14, 2013.

Among the findings of this on-going Cardus study of Calgary, Alberta:


"Faith-based institutions deliver services differently than government. Sometimes this is owing to the effectiveness that comes through very localized and socially embedded networks of informal support. People also form deep and lasting bonds with a faith-based community in a way that doesn't happen with a government agency. Both are needed but they function uniquely."
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The Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance works to safeguard the religious identity, faith-based standards and practices, and faith-shaped services of faith-based organizations across the range of service sectors and religions, enabling them to make their distinctive and best contributions to the common good.

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