Coalition Seeks Agreement on Faith-Based Initiatives

July 7, 2008 - 8:27 PM

Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - Former political rivals Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and former Sen. Harris Wofford (D-Pa.), who lost his U.S. Senate seat to Santorum in 1994, teamed up Tuesday to announce plans for a coalition hash out concerns raised by the Bush administration''s faith-based and community initiatives proposal.

Santorum called the coalition, which includes a wide-range of political and religious organizations, a "bipartisan working group that will seek to find common ground in the discussion of faith-based and community organizations and their roles in reaching out to distressed communities and helping those in need."

Wofford will head a group of leaders from almost 30 organizations, ranging from the conservative Free Congress Foundation to the liberal Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

The working group''s stated goals include defining the terms of the current debate on expanding the role of faith-based and community initiatives in helping the poor, clarifying issues of concern by both sides of the debate and to seek areas of agreement.

Citing the success of many faith-based organizations in their work with the poor, President Bush created the Office for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in January, in an attempt make proposals to Congress that would help to level the playing field between religious and secular groups in competing for federal aid.

However, criticism has come from both the right and the left; the right claiming that government has no business in the work religious groups do, and the left claiming such proposals would violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

Wofford said the heated debate over faith-based initiatives derives from misunderstandings on both sides about the issue and each side''s argument. The coalition hopes to dispel those misunderstandings so that the issues at hand can be worked out.

"We recognize that serious and compassionate people disagree on certain issues related to support of faith-based and community-based programs," Wofford said. "We both believe that people of good will, Democrats and Republicans alike, can and should find common ground on getting help to some of our fellow Americans in greatest need."

Santorum said differences in opinions should not inhibit the nation''s faith-based organizations from doing the good work they could do with government aid.

"Faith-based organizations have a proven track record of producing results where government programs have failed," Santorum said. "Discriminating against faith-based organizations solely based on their religious character would be a terrible disservice to all Americans."