Penn study: Church-state separation not breached when faith-based groups work with government

March 06, 2003

PHILADELPHIA -- Faith-based organizations assisting at-risk children work closely with government agencies without raising First Amendment separation of church and state concerns, according to a new study from the Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society at the University of Pennsylvania.

"Churches, Charity and Children: How Religious Organizations Are Reaching America's At-Risk Kids" describes in detail a qualitative study of faith-based organizations that consider faith commitment an essential part of their effectiveness with youth.

"Most of the faith-based groups are deliberate about exposing needy and troubled kids to religious values and beliefs," said Byron Johnson, director of CRRUCS. "What's important is that they've learned to do so in a way that's respectful of the families and careful not to violate church-state boundaries."

Researchers Joseph Loconte, a Fellow in Religion and a Free Society at the Heritage Foundation, and Lia Fantuzzo, a CRRUCS research assistant, interviewed leaders at 37 faith-based organizations from 22 states that serve more than 23,000 at-risk children. The study was based on hour-long phone interviews with ministry leaders, several site visits and conversations with government officials.

Many of the groups in the study receive government funding, though most rely heavily on private contributions and volunteers. All maintain close working relationships with state or local government agencies. The faith-based organizations work with public schools, correctional centers, child and family service providers, public housing agencies and juvenile courts.

Loconte and Fantuzzo found that religious organizations:Though the rules of church-state engagement aren't always formalized, the researchers found that ministry leaders don't cross the line between mentoring out of faith commitment and proselytizing. Faith-based organization staff and volunteers understand and abide by certain limits:The researchers found that leaders of faith-based organizations focus on developing friendships and mentoring relationships between at-risk children and staff and volunteers who share the religious values promoted by the organization. Most require staff to endorse a statement of faith, and many require the faith statement from volunteers as well.

University of Pennsylvania

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