Although mostly in compliance, USDOJ finds errors in Catholic Social Services use of funds
Among U.S. Department of Justice findings on Catholic Social Services and non-compliance with Justice regulations, is that the faith-based organization does not adequately separate the federally funded aspect of its operations from its inherently religious activities, according to a USDOJ letter in January to then Criminal Justice Planning Agency director Taufete’e John Faumuina Jr.
The report from USDOJ’s Office for Civil Rights followed last May’s OCR site visit of CJPA for a compliance review dealing with federal civil rights law. Of particular interest to OCR is compliance with the federal regulations issued in 2004 on the Equal Treatment for Faith-Based Organizations, which among other things instructs funded faith-based organizations not to discriminate in the delivery of services or benefits based on religion or to use federal funds for inherently religious activities.
Besides reviewing compliance of CJPA, the federal agency also conducted a review of Teen Challenge and Catholic Social Services — the two faith-based organizations that are subrecipients of USDOJ funds thru CJPA. Both organizations were found to have issues with their use of federal funds for inherently religious activities, while Teen Challenge was also found to discriminate in the delivery of services of benefits based on religion.(See yesterday’s story regarding Teen Challenge.)
During FY 2012, Catholic Social Service received $40,000 in USDOJ funds to operate its VAWA STOP program, while Teen Challenge received $15,000 to operate its Title II program.
According to the report, Catholic Social Services administers various programs and services, such as educating the public about substance abuse and addiction, providing Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and counseling clients on issues involving violence against women and children, anger management, and loss and grief.
To support these efforts, the subrecipient uses its USDOJ funds to pay the entire compensation of a counselor who assists victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse; to pay 20% of the administrative costs of several buildings where Catholic Social Services administers certain programs and services, and to purchase various ancillary materials, such as office supplies and vehicle fuel, that support its educational and outreach activities, the report says.
During the OCR’s site visit, program representatives emphasized that the organization, as a matter of policy and in practice, provides these USDOJ-supported programs and services to all interested members of the public, without regard to their religious background. Its program brochure, which commits to assisting “all who come seeking help,” supports this representation, the report said.
“Based on all of the information collected during its compliance review, the OCR concludes that Catholic Social Services does not discriminate against beneficiaries or prospective beneficiaries based on religion or religious belief in providing federally funded services,” it says.
However, the report says that subrecipient “does not adequately separate the federally funded aspect of its operations from its inherently religious activities” although the subrecipient satisfies its basic obligation to provide federally funded programs and services free from religious discrimination.
The report explains the evaluation of whether a subrecipient uses federal funds to engage in inherently religious activities. It also says that the OCR relies on the Regulations, which provide examples of inherently religious activities and states the conditions under which a funded faith-based organization may engage in them:
• Organizations that receive direct financial assistance from USDOJ under any USDOJ program may not engage in inherently religious activities, such as worship, religious instruction, or proselytization, as part of the programs or services funded with direct financial assistance from the Department.
• If an organization conducts such activities, the activities must be offered separately, in time or location, from the programs or services funded with direct financial assistance from the Department, and participation must be voluntary for beneficiaries of the programs or services funded with such assistance.
(A footnote in the report says that the Regulations contemplate that a religious organization can, in certain circumstances, engage in inherently religious activities with federal funds it receives indirectly from beneficiaries; however, because Catholic Social Services is a direct subrecipient of federal financial assistance, it cannot avail itself of that provision.)
Thus, a subrecipient may only conduct inherently religious activities when it receives federal financial assistance if it satisfies the two elements: such activities are offered separately, in time or location, from the programs or services provided with federal aid, and participation in such activities is voluntary for program beneficiaries, according to the report.
“Catholic Social Services uses federal resources in ways that are inconsistent with these requirements; stated differently, it uses federal financial assistance to engage in prohibited religious conduct,” it says.
The report also states that based on the information collected during its compliance review, the OCR found no evidence that Catholic Social Services uses any of the federally funded items of expenses to support its Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, which are generally led by the executive director of the organization.
“The record evidence does suggest, however, that the subrecipient relies on its federally funded counselor to conduct these substance-abuse sessions, and may use federal funds to subsidize the administrative costs related to these sectarian activities,” it says.
First, Catholic Social Services uses a portion of its USDOJ funds to compensate a counselor, whose responsibilities include highlighting issues involving violence against women, assisting victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, and providing substance abuse treatment services to members of the community, the report says.
Given the counselor’s role, Catholic Social Services occasionally relies on this individual to conduct Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, according to the report, which states that organization does not adopt preferential employment policies based on religion.
“About once each month, when the executive director is absent, the counselor conducts these substance-abuse-related sessions,” it says. “This conduct, despite its apparent infrequency, is impermissible under the Equal Treatment Regulations because the counselor, who is compensated with federal funds, is engaging in inherently religious activities.”
Second, Catholic Social Services occasionally holds Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings in office space where the administrative costs are partially paid for with USDOJ funds.
Typically, the subrecipient conducts these sessions in locations that are separate from those that are directly subsidized by such federal financial assistance, the report says.
About twice each month, however, Catholic Social Services holds these meetings in office space that is supported by its VAWA STOP funds.
“The subrecipient makes no effort to, in these instances, demonstrate that federal funds are only being used for the federally funded program, and that they do not support inherently religious activities,” the report says.
“As a result, the OCR cannot conclude that the subrecipient is in substantial compliance with the Equal Treatment Regulations’ restrictions as to its use of this federal financial assistance,” it says.
In tomorrow’s edition are the OCR recommendations.
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