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Presidential Candidates Urged to Ensure Safeguards for Faith-Based Programs

Note: The following letter was sent to the presumptive presidential nominees for the Democratic and Republican parties, Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain, respectively.

July 2, 2008  

Dear Senator:

Now that the Faith-Based Initiative has become a prominent issue in the current campaign, we would like to bring to your attention the concerns that we have had with the Initiative since its inception.  The Initiative raises serious questions of both law and policy, and has distorted the appropriate role of government in the provision of social services.  We believe the next President should seize the opportunity to return the relationship between government and religion to its proper course. 

As you formulate your position on this program, we urge you to proceed very carefully.  If you are elected and decide to continue this Initiative in some form, we urge you to ensure that every component maintains essential constitutional safeguards for protecting religious organizations, beneficiaries, and the government.  Regrettably, many of these safeguards are not now required, and for those that are, there is only insufficient monitoring for compliance. 

We appreciate the role that religious institutions historically have played in addressing many of our nation’s pressing social needs.  The League supports properly-crafted partnerships between government and religiously-affiliated organizations.  However, we believe that that even with the most intense monitoring and supervision, it is difficult—if not impossible—to ensure that these programs do not have a religious component or discriminate against those who do not share the religious views of the institutions that receive federal funding.

We believe necessary constitutional and anti-discrimination safeguards must ensure that:
  • Government money does not fund religious discrimination in the hiring and firing of people who deliver these social services.

  • Program beneficiaries are not subject to unwanted proselytizing or religious activities. 

  • Secular alternatives to social services provided by houses of worship and other religious institutions are readily available to beneficiaries. All beneficiaries should be made aware of secular alternatives, and have realistic and convenient access to them.

  • Recipients of government funds establish accounting systems and governance procedures to separate government dollars from funds that support core religious activities. These firewalls would ensure that taxpayer dollars are not channeled into the religious activities of the recipient religious organizations. As a practical matter, the best way to establish this division is through the creation of a separate corporate structure distinguishing the religious organization from its government-funded social services program.

  • Recipients of government funds must comply with all the requirements and limitations imposed upon all government-funded activity by the religion clauses of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

  • There is a clear separation in time and location between government-funded social welfare activities and an organization’s religious activities.  In addition, the delivery of benefits must not occur in an environment with a pervasively sectarian atmosphere, including religious icons and sacred texts.  

  • Extremist, terrorist or hate mongering groups are not eligible for government funds.
A 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization, ADL neither supports nor opposes any candidate for political office. ADL has been a longstanding advocate of separation of church and state.

We thank you for your consideration.


Abraham H. Foxman
National Director 

Glen S. Lewy
National Chair

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Related Press Release
ADL Urges Presidential Candidates To Ensure Proper Safeguards For Faith-Based Programs (7/3/08)

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