Role of State Faith Community Liaisons in Charitable Choice Implementation. Increasing Understanding and Implementation of Charitable Choice


The evident effectiveness of the FCLs in increasing understanding and implementation of Charitable Choice regulations and equal treatment principles was more mixed across the sites. The FCLs interpretation of their respective missions appeared to influence the degree to which they explicitly emphasized Charitable Choice rules per se; the varying degrees of emphasis also seemed attributable, in part, to variations in the FCLs stages of development, site contexts, and resources.

Gauging the understanding of FBOs and state agencies within the sites about Charitable Choice regulations is also difficult. The study sites did not systematically assess FBO or agency knowledge, and even if they had the extent to which this knowledge could be attributed specifically to the FCLs activities or other factors would be difficult, if not impossible, to assess. Nonetheless, some observations can be made about the effectiveness of FCLs in focusing on FBOs and agencies accurate understanding.

As noted in Chapter IV, several of the early-adopting sites focused explicitly on furthering understanding and implementation of Charitable Choice opportunities and rules early on in the evolution of their FBCIs. To this end, they used meetings and other public education efforts, outreach to and education of state agencies, revisions to procurement law and agency guidelines, and other means to inform FBOs, agencies, and the general public and to persuade agencies to move the initiative forward. By the time of this study, the early adopters were generally no longer pursuing this emphasis as strongly. This shift appeared to be due in part to a sense that a base of understanding had been developed in these states after the initial intense focus. It also reflected decisions within the FCL entity about the most fruitful direction for the initiative, the level of FCL authority and resources to reach state agencies and FBOs, and the budgetary and legal environment.

In addition, it reflected the White House OFBCIs pattern of evolution. In Texas, for example, the early efforts were followed by a shift toward the cultivation of partnerships and building of capacity across and within the FBCO/nonprofit sector. FCL leadership indicated that this was a strategic decision motivated in part by the desire not to segregate FBOs and to facilitate a greater sense of commonality and collaboration within the nonprofit sector, as well as a sense of urgency about building the sectors capacity to partner with government effectively. Early activities in Virginia by the FCL and others focused strongly on education about and implementation of Charitable Choice rules; by 2008, the FCL sought to integrate an emphasis on the FBCI and Charitable Choice throughout her work, noting that it was less an initiative than an overarching emphasis on partnerships. The FCLs in both these states have continued to provide detailed information about Charitable Choice dos and donts and to work collaboratively with state agencies in ways that allow them to reinforce the value of partnering with FBCOs and appropriate guidelines for doing so. Further, FBO and agency respondents cited their assistance in understanding the legal and policy parameters. Nevertheless, the focus appears to have evolved.

In New Jersey, another early adopting site, the range of applicable Charitable Choice regulations was narrower because of the states legal constraints noted in Chapter III (the prohibitions on hiring based on religion and contracting without a 501(c)(3) designation). Although Alabama was a later adopter, that states 2004 executive order (which cites Charitable Choice and strongly reflects its language) and the authority provided the FCL by the governor appear to have helped the FCL gain the cooperation of state agencies and advance implementation.

In a number of sites, however, even some of those where the FCL has taken significant steps to increase understanding and implementation of Charitable Choice, the FCLs indicated that they did not regard educating FBOs about regulations as primarily their role or their top priority. Instead, they suggested that the public agencies with which FBCOs contract bore primary responsibility for such training. Some FCLs likewise did not regard it as primarily their role to educate state agencies about Charitable Choice or require their compliance, suggesting instead that this was largely the responsibility of those federal agencies providing program funding to the states.

While the FCLs themselves generally seemed to understand clearly the parameters of Charitable Choice law, some expressed concern about informing  or misinforming  individual FBOs about the legality of their own situations. A few seemed quite confident in this role, but others said they advised highly faith-oriented FBOs to consult attorneys before pursuing public funds rather than rely only on their guidance. Further, the still-unsettled legal ground and complexity of the issues (several respondents noted the lurking possibility of litigation or other legal trouble) may have limited some FCLs comfort in going beyond the basics of Charitable Choice law. [17] Several FCLs stressed that they did not want to get [their partners] into trouble, and one remarked that she hoped to make it through her tenure in office without a lawsuit called [her name] v. Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Respondents indicated that misunderstanding about Charitable Choice was still common, especially among small FBOs, with one respondent from an intermediary organization noting, if [FBOs in the state] were at zero understanding prior to Charitable Choice, theyre at about 10 percent now. But he credited much of the albeit modest increase to the FCLs work. Other FBO respondents in other states said the FCLs there had contributed in useful ways to greater understanding. One local agency partner cited the FCLs help in reminding us of what we can and cant do, reminding us that not everyone is Christian, and in trying to give everyone a level playing field. A representative of a church exploring public funding for its programs said of the FCL in his state, having an office like [hers] that can come by and provide detailed information, without that, the process would take longer or not happen at all.

One aspect of Charitable Choice implementation that the FCLs have generally not sought to implement is the ability of FBOs to contract with government without 501(c)(3) status. As noted in Chapter IV, some FCLs and other respondents, such as their board members and intermediaries, indicated that they strongly encouraged FBOs to gain nonprofit tax status, largely because it is seen both as a good business practice that indicates a level of capacity and as providing FBOs with a degree of legal protection.

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