By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published February 3, 2005
Less than a month into his role as the new shepherd of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory stood shoulder to shoulder at the state Capitol with Gov. Sonny Perdue and other advocates of an amendment that would allow faith-based organizations to apply for state funds.
January 28 was a chilly day as Georgians prepared for the first blast of severe winter weather. In the rotunda of the Capitol, a crowd gathered in support of the Faith and Family Services Amendment (SR49). If passed, the amendment would eradicate the current amendment to the Georgia Constitution known as the Blaine Amendment, which states that “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, cult, or religious denomination or of any sectarian institution.”
This is Gov. Perdue’s second attempt to banish the Blaine Amendment, which presents an even higher barrier to faith-based initiatives than the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Faith and Family Services Amendment will bring the Georgia Constitution in line with the U.S. Constitution. The issue was brought to the forefront in Georgia with a lawsuit filed in 2002 against the United Methodist Children’s Home challenging a state’s right to fund social services delivered by a religious organization. Several existing state contracts that go to faith-based providers of human services likely violate Georgia’s Constitution, putting them at risk for lawsuits, yet are in compliance with the U.S. Constitution. The Blaine Amendment has prohibited contracts with organizations like the Salvation Army and the YMCA. The governor first introduced the amendment prior to the 2004 legislative session. The Senate gave it full consideration and passed it with the two-thirds’ majority required for an amendment to the state Constitution. The former House leadership failed to consider the bill, leaving it to die in the Rules Committee.
Over 10 leaders of faith-based groups attended the rally, including Sandra Hollett, executive director of Catholic Social Services, who told the crowd that in its 51 years of existence, “CSS has helped over 1 million families of all faiths by providing social services, advocacy and support.”
“Strong communities are built on strong families and we need more funding from state-based partners to help” families in need in Georgia, she said.
Archbishop Gregory introduced the governor and expressed his support for the Faith and Family Services Amendment on behalf of himself and Bishop J. Kevin Boland of Savannah.
“The poor and at-risk among us are especially close to the hearts of the many faith-based community service organizations,” the archbishop said. “For religious groups view ministry and outreach to God’s needy people as a primary mission and, more importantly, their responsibility. These religious groups can often address the needs of the poor more compassionately than can our state government.”
The archbishop spoke of the history of the Blaine Amendment, which, he said, “threatens vital services to the citizens of our state.”
Such amendments “have their shameful roots in the early history of our nation.” Archbishop Gregory said.
“They were the result of the widespread anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant bigotry in the mid-1800s that began during the growing Catholic immigration of the 1840s.”
The Blaine Amendment poses a significant barrier to those wishing to help the needy, the archbishop said.
“I agree with Gov. Perdue who has declared that the discrimination in public funding against a private, voluntary group merely because of its connection to a religious organization should not be practiced in this state,” he said. “Such disqualification of faith-based organizations is counter to the best interests of the poorest and neediest among our state’s citizens.”
Taxpayers should not oppose this amendment because, as required by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, taxpayer money will continue to be used only for secular purposes and not for religious purposes and activities.
“Failure to revise the outdated Blaine Amendment in the Georgia Constitution could result in disaster to the current social services systems in the state,” Archbishop Gregory said. “Its repeal will protect the social services system that includes a vast array of private organizations that provide vital resources to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged among us including foster children, battered women, refugees and the disabled.”
Archbishop Gregory concluded his remarks by introducing the governor, who in turn welcomed the archbishop to Atlanta.
“It’s an honor to have you with us today, standing shoulder to shoulder with all of us,” Gov. Perdue said.
“I believe Georgians in need deserve access to the best family and social services, delivered by the best providers, whomever they may be. And I believe that if folks are moved by faith to do good works, that’s something we should celebrate and encourage as a state, not penalize and prohibit,” said Gov. Perdue. “We need this amendment so that faith-based providers have the same opportunity as others to partner with the state and provide family and social services.”
The governor continued to express the need for faith-based services to pick up the pieces of Georgians’ broken lives.
“We have clearly seen that the government cannot meet all the needs of our state, but must rely on faith-based service,” he said. “We need people who have a heart of passion for service and who have a heart of compassion for others.”
He told the crowd that he had introduced the Faith and Family Services Amendment the day before and already has backing from the Senate. He encouraged others to write to their senators and representatives and to “let them know with love” that they should support the new amendment.
Sen. Judson Hill from East Cobb County is one of the senators who backs the amendment.
“For centuries, people of faith have reached out to serve the most needy in our community. This amendment can contribute to the help that’s critical and evidences to the love that Christ showed all of us by dying on the cross,” he said. “We need to keep providing services that bring (that) to others and to continue to encourage faith communities to express that love to others.”
Sister Joyce Ann Hertzig, OP, coordinator of parish and community outreach for Catholic Social Services, was on hand to show her support for the amendment.
“Many parishes have programs such as food pantries and shelters and prison ministry,” she said. “This would give them the opportunity to gain resources that will help them to do that.”
Joe Krygiel, Secretary for Catholic Charities, was also at the Capitol to offer support to the archbishop and the governor. Since he began his new role for the archdiocese last August, he has become more aware of the many ways that Catholic Social Services aids those in need, regardless of “culture, race or religion, and with deep compassion and charity.”
“Catholic Charities, along with the other faith-based providers of social services, offers this help and hope with a spiritual dimension that often makes the difference for our clients,” he said. “The demand for our social services is growing every day, and Catholic Charities cannot respond to this need alone. We will reach a crisis point soon unless Catholic Charities and other faith-based groups respond to that need through additional funding resources.”
Krygiel believes that with the strong support of Archbishop Gregory and Bishop Boland, as well as that of the Catholic and other faith communities in the state, there is a “real opportunity to repeal the Blaine Amendment and pass Gov. Perdue’s initiative.”
“Our faith-based groups already have the expertise in place to respond to this need,” he said. “By allowing state funding of needed social services, both the state of Georgia and the local communities will benefit through the efficient delivery of these services.”