Promoting Faith-Based Solutions

Last week President Bush and Senate leaders came up with an agreement to advance the faith-based proposal the president made a year ago. This is called the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment Act, or CARE for short.   Last year, after a hard battle in the House of Representatives, we helped pass the bill known as HR- 7. Many BreakPoint listeners phoned their representatives in support of this landmark legislation to take away discrimination against religious groups that provide services to the needy.   After HR-7 passed the House, however, the Senate blocked it, wanting to stop religious organizations from discriminating in hiring. They insisted that if qualified homosexuals applied, they had to be hired. The bill died.   Now the president has come up with a Solomonesque solution. He's narrowed the goal down to increasing tax deductions for charitable gifts, and he's made an effort to get rid of religious discrimination. The bill isn't all we want; we'd like something called "charitable choice." But it's a decent start. And co- sponsored by Republican Senator Rick Santorum and Democrat Joe Leiberman, at least it has a chance to get through the Senate.   The bill's big item is tax breaks for those who don't itemize their deductions. Right now only people who itemize their deductions can deduct a gift to a charity. This bill makes that deduction available to all taxpayers and allows people to make gifts with a charitable deduction from their IRAs. The bill also authorizes some new compassion grants and attempts to eliminate barriers to faith-based groups getting government funds.   Now, I understand the objection is if you take government money, the government will tell you what to do. Well, my answer to that is you take government money only if you can take it on your terms. In both Iowa and Kansas, Prison Fellowship takes state money to help run the prisons that we operate, but we've had no problems because we've been able to persuade the state that if they want us to do it, we're going to have to do it our way. And we've demonstrated the power of our program by reducing recidivism in the prisons we run to less than 10 percent -- compared to a national average of 66 percent. That's what the Gospel does.   There's nothing in this new Senate bill that sets us back. There's nothing in here that makes the current law any more dangerous for us; it does nothing but improve things. It's a huge step forward.   I am encouraged that the president is sticking to his guns and pushing his faith-based initiatives. The big payoff here is not only going to be help for faith- based charities or a more level playing field. The big payoff of this legislation is that it will reinvigorate our sense of civic duty. It will facilitate the little platoons of society going out and doing things that need to get done. This is the cardinal republican virtue: People helping people. And while this has always been important, never has it been more important than in the wake of September 11. We must pull together as a nation -- neighbors learning how to help neighbors. And Christians ought to be in the vanguard.   So I urge you to write or call your senators. Ask them to support the CARE Act Bill. It's a good bill that recognizes the power of the Gospel and a bill whose time has come.   To contact your U.S. senators and congressman, call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 to connect to your state's senators' and congressman's offices.   House directory   Senate directory         For further reading:   Charles W. Colson, "God and Caesar: Does Religion Belong in Public Life?", speech delivered to members of the Detroit Economic Club, The Cobo Center, Detroit, Michigan, 13 November 2000.   Joseph Loconte, God, Government and the Good Samaritan: The Promise and Peril of the President's Faith-Based Agenda (Washington, D.C.: Heritage Foundation, October 2001).   John J. DiIulio Jr., "Bush Keeps the Faith," The Weekly Standard, 18 February 2002.   Learn more about the CARE Act of 2002 at Sen. Santorum's website. Also read questions and answers about the CARE Act.


Chuck Colson



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