Support for Faith-Based Programs
Currently, 69% of Americans say they favor allowing churches and other houses of worship, along with other organizations, to apply for government funding to provide social services such as job training or drug treatment counseling. Just 25% oppose allowing faith-based groups to seek government funding to help the needy.
Support is somewhat below the peak of 75% measured in March 2001 when Bush made the faith-based initiative a key piece of his early agenda. Notably, Republicans are less supportive of this program now than they were during the early months of the Bush administration. Currently, 66% of Republicans favor allowing houses of worship to seek government funding to provide social services, down from 81% in March 2001. By contrast, more Democrats favor this than did so in 2001 (77% now vs. 70% then). As a result of these shifts, Democrats are now more supportive of this program than are Republicans, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted Aug. 11-27 among 4,013 adults reached on both landlines and cell phones.
As a candidate in 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama backed the concept of faith-based initiatives, while vowing to revamp the Bush-era program. Yet it was not a major issue during last year’s campaign, which was dominated at first by the war in Iraq and then by the economy. Indeed, most Americans are unaware of President Obama’s – and Bush’s – positions regarding faith-based funding. Just 27% know that Obama favors allowing houses of worship to apply for government funding to provide social services; 18% incorrectly say that Obama opposes this policy, while more than half (54%) give no answer. Bush’s stance is not much better known: just 36% know that Bush favored such a policy.
The public’s concerns about government funding for faith-based organizations – and people’s assessments of the potential benefits – have changed very little since 2001. A majority of the public views the possibility that the government might get too involved in religious organizations as an important concern (69%). And a smaller but still sizeable majority views the idea that people who receive help from faith-based groups might be forced to take part in religious practices as an important concern (60%). Roughly half see interference with the separation between church and state (52%) as an important concern, and nearly as many say the same about the possibility that such programs might not meet the same standards as government programs (48%) and that they might increase religious divisions (47%).
In addition, about three-quarters (74%) say religious organizations that receive government funds to provide services should not be able to hire only people who share their religious beliefs, a long-running point of contention in the debate.
At the same time, the survey finds strong support for several arguments in favor of funding these programs. The need for a range of service options and the potential that the people providing the services would be more caring and compassionate are cited most often as important reasons for favoring such programs (78% and 68%, respectively).