FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PHOENIX – Last month, Governor Jan Brewer signed an executive order creating a new Office of Faith and Community Partnerships and a Council on Faith and Community Partnerships. In response to the creation of this new infrastructure, designed to promote government partnerships with faith-based and non-profit organizations, ACLU of Arizona Executive Director Alessandra Soler issued the following statement:
“We appreciate the important role community organizations, including religiously affiliated institutions, historically have played in addressing many of our nation’s most pressing social needs, as a complement to government-funded programs. But when the government partners with religiously affiliated organizations, the partnerships must adhere to vital safeguards that uphold our laws and our values.”
While Gov. Brewer’s recent executive order creates a new infrastructure to foster cooperation between government and non-profits, including faith-based organizations, a similar order has been in place since 2010. That year Gov. Brewer announced the creation of the ArizonaSERVES Task Force, which was devoted to serving as a “faith and community initiative resource.” ArizonaSERVES, which included representatives from both the faith-based and non-profit communities, was housed under the Department of Economic Security.
This year’s executive order replaces the existing task force with a council that will be housed directly in the Governor’s new Office of Faith and Community Partnerships, which “may accept monies from local, state or federal government sources, other public agencies, or non-governmental organizations.” The Governor’s new office also has the authority to expend money, though it’s still unclear whether the money will be used for outreach to community and faith-based groups or whether the office itself will issue grants directly to organizations that will be delivering services to the public.
“We need to make sure these funds will be spent in the right way, respecting existing statewide grant application requirements and in compliance with any ethical and legal rules related to the distribution and delivery of tax-payer funded projects or services,” Soler said.
The ACLU is calling on the Office and Council to establish robust religious liberty protections for beneficiaries of social services. Social service beneficiaries should be entitled:
• To participate in taxpayer-funded programs no matter their religious beliefs or lack thereof;
• To participate in taxpayer-funded programs that are free of religious content;
• To participate in taxpayer-funded programs without having to engage in worship, prayer, devotional readings, or inquiries into religious beliefs; and
• To object to the religious character of a taxpayer-funded social service provider and be referred to other providers.
The Office and Council should also ensure that these partnerships clearly reflect standards and protections required by the Constitution. Arizona’s partnerships should:
• Uphold the fundamental, constitutionally mandated prohibition on direct government funding of any religious establishment.
• Explicitly prohibit employment discrimination in government-funded programs. Polls consistently show that Americans overwhelmingly understand and agree that when tax dollars are in play, discrimination is wrong.