Georgia State Capitol, Atlanta
Friday, January 28, 2005, 2:00pm
On behalf of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta, which I shepherd, and the Diocese of Savannah, whose flock is led by Bishop J. Kevin Boland, I want to add our voice in support of Governor Perdue’s proposal to reintroduce the “Faith and Family Services Amendment” to the Georgia Constitution. Its passage is crucial to the lives of some of Georgia’s most defenseless and needy citizens.
The task of serving the needy belongs to all of us. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says “you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” The poor and at-risk among us are especially close to the hearts of the many faith-based community service organizations. 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. Upon taking office, Governor Perdue adopted a policy of bringing best-practices from the private sector to State government. Governor Perdue acknowledged the wisdom of this when he said “government alone cannot meet all the human needs of our citizens. Our state government relies on faith-based organizations…to deliver critical family and social services. The needs are too many and the needy too numerous.” Faith based groups are under increasing financial strain because of the growing needs upon them for these services. We can meet this challenge together.
The language in Article 1, Section 2, and Paragraph 2 of the Georgia Constitution (commonly known as the ‘Blaine Amendment’) threatens vital services to the citizens of our state and is the direct result of the Blaine Amendments which have their shameful roots in the early history of our nation. 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.
Georgia’s Blaine Amendment is not only anti-Catholic, but discriminatory as well. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution allows for faith-based providers of human services to qualify for state grants on the same basis as other non-profits, and that doing so does not interfere with the establishment clause of the First amendment of the U.S. Constitution. As it currently stands, Georgia’s Blaine Amendment presents a high barrier to faith-based initiatives when the U.S. Constitution presents no such barrier.
I agree with Governor Perdue who has declared that 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. Such disqualification of faith-based organizations is counter to the best interests of the poorest and neediest among our State’s citizens.
The proposed Faith and Family Services Amendment to the Georgia Constitution would stop threats to state funding of health and social services by allowing religious or sectarian organizations to receive public aid, directly or indirectly, for the provision of such services in a manner consistent with the United States Constitution. 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. 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.
In a 2000 Supreme Court case Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the plurality, said “consideration of the (Blaine) Amendment arose at a time of pervasive hostility to the Catholic church and to Catholics in general, and it was an open secret that ‘sectarian’ was code for ‘Catholic.’…This doctrine, born of bigotry, should be buried now.”
Bishop Boland and I urge the House and the Senate to pass this crucial amendment to Georgia’s constitution and I am honored to introduce Governor Sonny Perdue who is leading our state forward with wisdom and integrity as he tackles existing problems for the benefit of all God’s people of our great state.