If You Believe Families Need Help and You Pray, Please Pray for This

I may be dating myself, but there used to be a radio show that I enjoyed entitled “Calling all Cars.” The title of the show was based on a saying used in the show that was merely an order given to all available units that there was something wrong – like a crime in progress – and help was needed immediately. There were two reasons that I liked that show. First, the episodes were based on real-life stories. Secondly, and most importantly, I liked the idea of having a mantra or a call to action that brought people together to help others.

Today there are a lot of families who need help because they are struggling – to form, to remain healthy, or stay together. And the causes for the struggles families face are many – lack of education, unstable employment, communication problems, or misplaced government assistance. Georgia Center of Opportunity is currently working with community partners through the Healthy Families Initiative to remove many of these barriers with the goal of helping all Georgians enjoy a healthy family life.

The Healthy Families Initiative kicked off this month in the Norcross and Peachtree Corners communities as a means to combat the issues in life that keep families from forming and thriving. Through the initiative, we are providing tools to individuals, couples, and partner organizations that will allow them champion and experience healthy relationships and strong marriages.

The collaboration of the community is extremely vital to this program. The community can engage in fostering the growth of this program in a number of ways, including by offering prayer for this initiative, as well as prayer for those teaching and participating in the classes. When this program is successful, the entire community will reap the rewards of more children being born to their married parents, growing up in homes characterized by healthy relationships, and living lives free of poverty and deprivation.

We’re asking for prayer teams to become our partners in prayer for one month. If we can have a church every month praying for those in the Norcross and Peachtree Corners area, think of how many families that can be helped! We really need your prayers, and can provide a detailed prayer list. If you or your organization would like to find out more, please email me at joyce.whitted@georgiaopportunity.org or call @ 770-242-0001 x707. We really need your help!

Yule log, Stockings, Santa Claus: What Role do Holiday Traditions Play?

With the Christmas season upon us, we find ourselves spending more time with family and reminiscing about holiday traditions we started as children. Today there is sufficient evidence to show these traditions play a positive role in families and will have a lasting influence.

Whether the traditions are for the holidays or carried out all year long, traditions provide security, strengthen family relationships, and teach children family values.

In the late 90s when researchers first looked at the importance of traditions, they found that families believed traditions improved the strength of their family. Families recognize the importance of spending quality time with the people they love and how this time fosters family stability.

When families have traditions, they create an environment which enables all family members to feel secure. Traditions give children something to look forward to. It is important for parents to begin traditions that will continue through their child’s early years. Parents provide family unity when they understand and emphasize the importance of family traditions.

When families join together to celebrate milestones, holidays and allow for traditions not only are memories being created, but the emotional health of the family is being improved. When families continue traditions, children have been found to have better emotional health. In a New York Times article, Dr. Steven J. Wolin, a psychiatrist at George Washington University, found that individuals who grew up in a family with traditions, were “more likely to be resilient as an adult.”

Family traditions are more than just joining together once a year at the holidays. They can be carried out all year long, and help families to prosper.

If your family does not have traditions, I encourage you to look for opportunities that can be turned into traditions. It could be having dinner as a family, reading to your child before bed, or visiting your favorite store on a special day every year as my family does. Whatever traditions you choose, know that you are giving your family the most precious gift, your time.

On behalf of everyone here at GCO, I want to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas.

A Lesson in ESAs

Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) have dominated the school choice policy conversations as of late. However, many people are still unsure what ESAs truly offer, and some of the terminology can be confusing.

ESAs are similar to an Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) or a Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) in terms of the flexibility they provide but are used to pay for education expenses. A portion of the state’s allocated dollars that are already designated for each child’s public education are instead loaded onto a debit card that parents use to customize their child’s education. This money can be used for any educational resources including tutors, textbooks, private-school, homeschooling curriculum, and virtual learning.

Often these programs are confused with Coverdell Education Savings Accounts which are instead set up with personal money invested into tax-free accounts. These Funds can be used at any eligible educational institution whether that be elementary, secondary, or postsecondary. With a regular ESA, funds are coming from “legislative appropriations, local districts, and the federal government.

Several states have already implemented ESA programs. For example, Arizona offers ESAs to children with special needs, attending failing public schools, in the foster care system, or children of active-duty military. Nevada offers a universal ESA program, allowing all public school students the opportunity to obtain quality education in the environment that best fits his or her learning needs.

Parents know their child’s learning needs best, so they are best equipped to decide how these resources should be spent to ensure their child obtains a quality education. By having control over the money the state is already spending on their child, parents who were previously limited by income or geography, now have access to more educational options for their children. Parents can keep their child in their school if they’re happy with it, but ESAs give more options to parents who feel that their child’s current school environment isn’t meeting their needs.

You can learn even more about ESAs at esaga.org.

“Discrimination” or Religious Freedom? Religious Hiring Rights and Government Contracts

Recently, a broad coalition of groups sent a letter to President Obama urging him to require the Attorney General to “review and reconsider” a “flawed” Office of Legal Counsel memo—issued in 2007 (i.e., during the Bush Administration)—that argued that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act provided the basis for exempting faith-based organizations that contracted with the government from legal requirements that forbid taking religion into account in certain hiring decisions. The letter asserts that the memo relies on “flawed legal analysis” and offers a “broad and erroneous,” indeed “dangerous,” “interpretation of RFRA,” “permitting the grantee to discriminate in hiring with taxpayer funds without regard to the government’s compelling interest in prohibiting such discrimination.”

This is just the latest skirmish in a long-running battle. Here’s a snippet of something I wrote about it ten years ago:

One of the central bones of legislative contention, evident once again in the recent House debate over the Workforce Investment Act, is connected with Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Acts, which exempts faith-based organizations from legal strictures against religious discrimination. Churches and other faith-based organizations are, in other words, permitted to take religion into account when they hire employees, a provision upheld unanimously by the Supreme Court in the 1987 case Corporation of the Presiding Bishop v. Amos.

Opponents of the [Bush Administration’s] faith-based initiative cry foul when this legal exemption is explicitly extended to government contractors, as it was in the original [1996] charitable choice legislation, and as it has been proposed in several recent pieces of legislation. They want no part, they say, of government-funded religious discrimination, regardless of what religious groups are permitted to do on their own dimes.

The arguments, or rather slogans, of those opposed to the religious hiring rights of faith-based government contractors haven’t really changed. Taking religion into account is, they insist, discrimination, made worse by the fact that those engaging in it are taking government dollars.

The current version of the dispute involves the way in which the OLC memo deploys the Religious Freedom Restoration Act on behalf—of all things—the religious liberty of government contractors. RFRA—passed overwhelmingly during the Clinton Administration but recently by and large abandoned by those on the political Left—requires that laws and regulations that limit religious freedom be justified by a compelling state interest and represent the least restrictive means to attain that interest. It is supposed to provide individuals and organizations a basis for claiming an exemption on generally applicable laws that burden their religious liberty. Most frequently such claims would be made in court and weighed by a judge. The OLC memo represents an administrative, rather than a judicial, determination that even laws that explicitly prohibit government contractors from hiring in accordance with religious criteria—not discriminating against people, but hiring those who support the mission of the organization (a right, by the way, that would seem uncontroversial in almost any other setting)—have to accommodate the religious freedom of the contractors.

You might ask how an Administration could defy the express will of Congress if it passes a law that forbids taking religion into account when hiring for participation in a particular government-funded program. The answer to this question begins with the following consideration: unless the law explicitly repudiates RFRA, the executive is charged with enforcing both laws and reading them in a way that renders them, so far as possible, consistent with one another. So the executive must first ask, in accordance with RFRA, whether the burden on religious freedom represented by the hiring prohibition represents a compelling state interest. The most obvious answer is that, since there are plenty of laws that actually acknowledge the religious hiring rights of government contractors, denying those rights in this instance can’t be a compelling state interest. In other words, RFRA trumps the prohibition in the law.

What’s more, I think that this conclusion is not only good law, but also good policy. Let me summarize the argument I made at greater length ten years ago. A diverse country is best served, not by a uniform, monolithic, and homogeneous social service sector, but by an array of organizations that represent genuinely different approaches to addressing our social problems. A healthy civil society is a diverse civil society. Government should respect and foster that diversity rather than diminish it. The demand that “government not fund discrimination”—usually connected with a demand that government expand its programs for the needy—is for all intents and purposes a demand that government secularize society, that nongovernmental organizations be simple extensions of their government sponsors. This isn’t good for the needy or for the society at large.

Let’s hope that the Obama Administration continues to ignore the importuning of those whose crabbed view of religious liberty would increasingly diminish the role of religion in society.

Baltimore & Opportunity

Baltimore, Maryland Row Houses

A week ago today the city of Baltimore was set ablaze by its own citizens. The media storm following the protests and riots is the latest in a string of events that continue to orient our attention as a society to the lack of economic and social opportunity in America

David Brooks, an Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times, wrote an excellent piece on The Nature of Poverty a week ago. Brooks draws attention to the importance of the social dynamics that undercut attempts to improve the conditions of urban poor through increased spending and policy solutions.

What Brooks notes in his article, and many others recognize, is that when dealing with poverty, one must deal with the causes of poverty and the psychological and developmental effects of poverty. One-size-fits-all programs fail to do justice to the ways in which individual circumstances vary. Some people have short-term needs – such as gas to get to work – while others need more structured and long-term oriented assistance – such as acquiring the skills necessary to compete in a very competitive job market. This requires panoply of social programs specifically targeted to lift people out of poverty for good.

A safety net in good working order is crucial to a healthy economy, but poor families don’t just need help – they need the right kind of help. Giving people money really does make them better off. Yes, it’s better to have more money to buy groceries and other basic necessities, but improving inequality through handouts has no consistent correlation with upward mobility.

Baltimore is the perfect example of the fact that getting more money from the government doesn’t really make you less poor, and a testament to the fact that poverty is enabled to linger through the impoverishment of our social relations.

Click here to read Brooks’ article.


Image Credit: Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Row Houses, Baltimore, Maryland.