Missouri Governor Pushes Church-based Social Services

Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt has launched an effort to encourage government to work with churches and other faith-based groups in providing social services.

Speaking at the First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Blunt addressed hundreds of clergy from around the state to announce his “Faith-Based Missouri” project, reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Republican governor used rhetoric mirroring President George W. Bush’s on his administration’s “faith-based” initiative, which makes it easier for religiously run social service providers to obtain federal grants. Blunt told his audience that government could not constitutionally “force anyone to participate in religious activity, but that does not mean government should shun social programs that work.”

Later in his speech, Blunt said he believed faith-based groups do a better job of serving the needy than government programs.

The newspaper reported that Blunt did not reveal many details of the program. Rather, he noted that a task force would be created to spur faith-based groups and the state government to work together. The state, according to the Post-Dispatch, already has “hundreds of contracts” with faith-based groups to operate social service programs, such as foster care services.

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn told the newspaper that “faith-based” programs threaten the First Amendment principle of church-state separation.

“It’s very difficult to expect someone to turn off the spiritual nature of their work when a state or federal dollar comes their way,” Lynn said.