President Obama signed an Executive Order today clarifying procedures and establishing new guidelines for partnerships between the federal government and faith-based organizations receiving funding to provide social services. A White House press release describes seven key directives in the order, which implement most of the recommendations of the task force asked to develop reforms for the Faith-Based Office.

Specifically, the Executive Order:  

  • Requires the government to…provid(e) referrals to alternative providers if the beneficiary objects to the religious character of the organization providing the services;
  • Clarifies that decisions about financial awards must be free from political interference or even the appearance of such interference;
  • Affirms that faith-based organizations that receive Federal financial assistance may use their facilities to provide social services without removing or altering religious art, icons, scriptures, or other symbols from these facilities….
  • Requires the federal government to monitor and enforce standards regarding the relationship between religion and government in ways that avoid excessive entanglement;
  • Requires agencies that provide Federal financial assistance to post online regulations, guidance documents, and policies that reflect or elaborate upon the fundamental principles of the Executive Order;
  • Requires agencies to post online a list of entities that receive Federal financial assistance for the provision of social service programs;
  • Clarifies the principle that organizations engaging in explicitly religious activity must perform these activities outside of and separately in time and location from programs supported with Federal financial assistance, and that participation in any explicit religious activity must be voluntary;

Perhaps most interesting is the affirmation that such organizations may maintain their religious character in name, mission, and decor. And what’s most missing is an indication of whether that affirmation extends to hiring discrimination generally, the one church-state question that has frankly dogged this White House since president Obama’s inauguration.

Also of note is the requirement – which is not new, but is thankfully emphasized and clarified – that organizations maintain a clear separation “in time and location” between religious activity and federally funded services.

You can read about the recommendations of the President’s Faith-based Advisory Council here.