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July 26, 2001

Slippery Slope

http://www.jewishjournal.com/rob_eshman/article/slippery_slope_20010727

The all-new, completely updated "Joys of Yiddish" (Crown, 2001) by Leo Rosten will be released soon, and thumbing through an advance copy yesterday I couldn't stop smiling at the language's ability to capture an action, an emotion and a worldview -- all in one word.

Glitch, Rosten writes, means "A slide; to slide or skid on a slippery surface." It also means, "a risky undertaking, or enterprise." The adjective is glitchidik. "To warn your child that the pavement is glitchidik," Rosten writes, "seems to me delightful."

Even before taking office, President George W. Bush made his faith-based initiative the cornerstone of his agenda to bring the values of religious life to bear in addressing social ills. As The Journal reported in a March 16 cover story on the initiative, the idea intrigued many Jewish charities as a way of gaining more federal dollars, and upset many others, as a sign that Bush wanted to puncture the church-state wall.

Last week, a scaled-back version of the plan, called the Community Solutions Act, passed in a House vote, 233 to 198. The bill would greatly expand a Clinton-era law allowing houses of worship to receive federal funding for social service programs on a limited basis.

To get CSA through the Senate, the president will have to address some of the concerns the measure's critics -- and its more moderate Republican and Democratic supporters -- have raised. Three concerns stand out:

Would some groups be excluded from being employees or recipients of faith-based social services? Earlier this month, the Salvation Army asked the Bush administration to exempt religious charities that receive federal money from local laws that bar discrimination against homosexuals. The request was denied. But the idea that the federal government would end up referring among religious groups is disturbing. "Why is it an imposition to the Methodists to ask them to hire Jews?" Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass) told a reporter. "That seems to me appalling. We would be promoting interreligious hostility, with federal funds."

This week, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) met with Bush to work out a compromise that addressed this concern, among others.

But for local charities, there may be graver issues.

What standards will be put in place to make sure the fresh crop of religious charities created by this act are subject to what a United Jewish Community spokesman called, "same standards of accountability," as those offered by long-standing non-sectarian providers?

Will new, religiously affiliated nonprofits competing for the same federal dollars hurt the charities most experienced in providing care?

Finally, look at Canada. There the government has been funding faith-based charities for 100 years. But now Canada is slashing the level of funding due to severe budget constraints. The result: charities that have lost the ability to raise their own monies, a population that is resistant to donating out of pocket, and tens of thousands of needy people without social services.

Perhaps the supporters of faith-based initiatives can work out the new problems that new approaches invariably create. But they must have known that mixing church and state is a slippery endeavor. In a word, glitchidik.




Glitch, Rosten writes, means "A slide; to slide or skid on a slippery surface." It also means, "a risky undertaking, or enterprise." The adjective is glitchidik.... Mixing church and state is a slippery endeavor. In a word, glitchidik.

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