By: Alison Centofante
Every day in Washington, D.C., something beautiful happens.
At around 5:30 p.m., volunteers from Martha’s Table pull up alongside crowded city parks and start setting up a table of prepared meals for the homeless and less fortunate. The line gets long, but it’s amazing to see the anticipatory look of hope in each person’s eyes as the ever reliable volunteers from Martha’s Table come to end a day of hunger.
I see the same sight in New Jersey when I go home and watch my Dad’s outreach, Ignite Ministries, head into Atlantic City, engaging students in after school programs, taking clothing and supplies to mothers in need, and making unemployed men aware of job opportunities in the area.
The people behind these volunteer efforts would tell you they are just doing the right thing at the right time. But, they may also tell you that it is their faith and their belief in human dignity and purpose that compels them to sacrifice time, money, and energy to help those in need. It is the faith of so many volunteers that allow institutions like Martha’s Table and Ignite Ministries to thrive.
People of faith make an enormous difference in our society, especially in addressing hunger, housing, and poverty. A recent Brian Grim/Melissa Grim research study quantified the contribution of faith-based institutions at $1.2 trillion dollars. These services range across the spectrum from faith focused businesses to philanthropic programs, educational institutions to health care services. Just a few statistics from the Grim Research Study highlight how much of a difference faith-based institutions make in today’s society:
- Despite declining religious affiliation in the U.S. population, religious organizations have tripled the amount of money spent on social programs in the last 15 years—to $9 billion.
- Religion’s $1.2 trillion impact is more than the annual revenues of the top 10 tech companies, including Apple, Amazon, and Google combined.
- If $1.2 trillion was put in terms of GDP, it would make U.S. religion the 15th largest national economy in the world. Forty percent of the top 50 charities in the U.S. are faith-based, with a combined operating revenue of $45.3 billion.
The work of faith-based organizations is truly inspiring, running some of our most successful homeless shelters, disaster relief efforts, orphanages, and soup kitchens. With 1 in 5 Americans suffering from mental illness, it’s amazing to see a report discuss the 353,000 clergy serving their communities in the United States, dedicating roughly 10-20% of their work week to counseling individuals suffering from emotional or marital problems. This amounts to roughly 138 million hours of mental health services per year; services provided at little to no cost to those who seek them.
Charities like the Lutheran Services of America care for six million people annually, or about one in every 50 people in the U.S. Catholic hospitals care for one in six U.S. hospital patients. These groups pursue advancing the “common good” because of their understanding of “common grace.”
Unfortunately, we constantly see religious organizations targeted in ways that make it very difficult for them to serve and flourish. Churches, like New York’s Bronx Household of Faith, have been providing a safe haven for children in after school programs and serving the needy in one of the poorest neighborhoods of New York City.
Although New York City allowed churches to use the public schools to conduct these charitable activities, they denied churches the right to meet for worship services, the central activity that connected all of their charitable work. If the churches could not point people to Christ through their worship services, it significantly hampered their ability to minister to the poor, even if they were free to conduct after school programs in the schools. In many of those poor neighborhoods, the only facility capable of holding a worship service was a public school, that the City allowed any other community group to meet for any other purpose. Alliance Defending Freedom spent 20 years litigating that case in an attempt to allow Bronx Household of Faith to have equal access to public facilities for and continue to reach more people.
Or, even now, ADF is representing a Missouri church, Trinity Lutheran Church, where the church preschool was denied a state grant for safer playground material because the preschool is operated as a ministry of the church. Children’s safety is just as important on church preschool playgrounds as it is on non-religious preschool playgrounds. And the church should not be kept from equally participating in secular public benefits available to all just because it is a faith-based institution.
Our country needs help, and religious institutions provide that help to their communities. Why punish the organizations that are serving their communities, providing free social services, and helping our economy? Do we really want to discourage, eradicate, and eliminate the key contributions that these institutions make to their communities?
What would America look like if we were a nation without faith? What would it look like if these institutions failed to exist?
That’s exactly the question that the Republican Study Committee asked last week as they launched the “America Without Faith” Project. Chairman of the Republican Study Committee, Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), was joined by Former Congressman and co-founder of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, Frank Wolf, Author of Philanthropy under Fire, Howard Husock, and the Associate VP and Dean of Education Programs for Hillsdale College, Dr. Matthew Spalding to highlight the project’s website that will house stories of faith-based programs across the country.
Members of the Republican Study Committee and others have also introduced legislation, including the First Amendment Defense Act, to recognize the unique status churches and faith-based organizations hold in their community. This would ensure these groups retain their tax status and would prevent discrimination of our religious institutions and faith-based organizations because of their sincerely held religious beliefs, so that they can continue to serve their communities.
The America Without Faith project and Brian Grim research study allows us to be aware of the great faith-based institutions in their states so we can help protect them. These institutions have protected our communities, standing as a blockade against rampant poverty, mental illness, and other social ills. We should do all we can to highlight them and protect them back.
Religious institutions should be free to live out their mission in society without threat of punishment by the government and the political elite.
Alliance Defending Freedom is working to defend these organizations, so people can continue to share good news and good services with their community. Learn more about how we are defending the right of people to freely live out their faith here.