CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Gov. Linda Lingle spoke yesterday at the Hawaii Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Conference, a forum to help community and faith-based groups. Lingle shook hands with Poese Vatikani, middle, and Samiana Langi, both from First United Methodist Church in Honolulu.
Governor praises community work by faith groups
Gov. Linda Lingle is praising the work done by faith-based community organizations and defending President Bush for including these groups in federal funding.
Speaking before about 450 people attending the Hawaii Faith-Based and Community Initiative Conference, sponsored by the state and federal government, Lingle said her own Jewish faith helps her in dealing with problems.
"Everyone should know that faith-based organizations and community-based organizations are a key to our ability to help those in need," she said.
"Yet, it took President Bush to stand up nationally and say we have to stop discriminating against faith-based organizations when we are talking about the use of federal funds," Lingle said.
Bush followed on the lead set by former President Clinton, who included the "Charitable Choice" law as part of the 1996 welfare reform act. It allows state governments to direct federal money to religious groups. Faith-based groups could get federal money before 1996 only if they formed separate secular, nonprofit organizations.
In 2003, $1.17 billion in grants from federal agencies was given to faith-based groups, according to an Associated Press tabulation that was confirmed by the White House.
Often, it is a church or community group that "is in the best position to support those in need," Lingle said.
Others attending the meeting agreed with her.
Rose Nakamura, administrator for Project Dana, organized through the Moiliili Hongwanji Mission, a Buddhist temple that created a volunteer elder care program, said religious groups are naturally part of a community.
"We are a grass-roots program that started 16 years ago when we looked at the needs of our congregation," Nakamura said.
"There are elders in our congregation who could not attend, and we wanted to reach out to them and those in the neighboring community," she said.
The conference was designed to help groups such as Project Dana to learn how to apply for state and federal grants.
"We discovered how important it is to network with public and private agencies. We (were) able to start with a small government grant," Nakamura said.
But others attending yesterday's conference said the faith-based groups must be careful not to use federal or state money to win converts or for preaching.
"I have great concerns about this," the Rev. Mike Young, with First Unitarian Church of Honolulu, said.
"We will need to watch one another carefully because the temptation to misuse these funds out of the highest motivation is going to be irresistible," he said.
Churches offering services could exert "subtle pressure," Young said, to get clients or groups they are working with "to be religious in a particular way in order to get services."
"I find that unconscionable," Young said.
Nakamura, however, said the fears are unfounded.
"I don't see a blurring of the line between church and state. It is important that churches come forward to work with government," she said. "The whole spirit of helping each other in the community is very important."