UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA
Political Science 240
Mondays and Wednesdays: 2:00 p.m.-3:20 p.m.
Religion, the Nonprofit Sector, and U.S. Public Policy
Professor John DiIulio
This seminar is intended to help students learn lots about the uniquely American intersection of religion, the nonprofit sector, and public policy (read the detailed statement on pages 9-17 below).
Politics and religion are mixed in this seminar. The instructor, now in his twenty-sixth year teaching, often employs Socratic methods and other pedagogical provocations. Do NOT take the seminar if you are easily offended or prefer not to have certain political, religious, or other beliefs you may hold dear or think true challenged forcefully by the instructor and by peers in the seminar.
Grades are based on individual class participation (20%), task group performance (30%), an in-class multiple-choice first-third examination (10%), an in-class multiple-choice last two-thirds examination (20%), and an individual book review essay (20%). No extensions. Two unexcused absences results automatically in a course failure. Any violation of Penn’s academic integrity policy including any grave verbal or other act of incivility toward another seminar student will result in an automatic course dismissal and possible College disciplinary action.
Students must purchase and possess the following books:
John DiIulio, Godly Republic (University of California Press, 2007), paperback (All royalties on the book are donated to the charities listed in its introduction.)
Philip Hamburger, Separation of Church and State (Harvard University Press, 2004), paperback
Corwin Smidt et al, Pews, Prayers & Participation (Georgetown University Press, 2008), paperback
Ram Cnaan and Stephanie Boddie, eds, Faith-Based Social Services (Routledge, 2007), paperback
Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope (Vintage, 2008), paperback
One additional book is to be selected by each student from a list to be distributed by the instructor after spring break. The book selected by the student will serve as the focus of an individual book review essay that is due in class on April 27.
Secular, Nonsectarian, Religious and You “Quakers”
>>Read course syllabus
January 19: No Class (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Three Faces of “Faith-Based”: “God and the Inner-City”
Constitutional Context I: What’s “establishment”?
Constitutional Context II: What’s “free exercise”?
>>DiIulio, Chapters 1 and 2
++TG 1 and TG 3: Zelman decision
++TG 2 and TG 4: Locke decision
Religion in America Today I: “Christian nation”?
++TG 1: Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life
++TG 2: Gallup Organization/Gallup Institute
Religion in America Today II: “Christian nonprofits”
++TG 3: Teen Challenge and World Vision
++TG 4: Catholic Charities and Nueva Esperanza
Religion in America Today III: “Friends of God”
>>DiIulio, Chapter 3
Religion in America Today IV: “Anti-Christian nation?”
>>DiIulio, Chapter 4
The Nonprofit Sector I: What’s a “nonprofit”?
++All TG: Internal Revenue Service (IRS); Penn 990
The Nonprofit Sector II: “Non-member benefits”
++Visit to local independent religious school
February 23: In-class first-third examination
The Nonprofit Sector III: “Faith-based services” exist
>>Cnnan and Boddie, first half
The Nonprofit Sector IV: Faith-based services “work”?
>>Cnnan and Boddie, second half
Spiritual Capital I: Which “faith factors”?
>>DiIulio, Chapter 5
++All TG: Public/Private Ventures
March 9 and March 11
++No Class-Spring Break (March 6-15)
Spiritual Capital II: Faith and “civic responsibility”
>>Smidt et al, first half
Spiritual Capital III: Faith begets “civic virtues”?
>>Smidt et al, second half
Spiritual Capital IV: Jailhouse conversions?
>>DiIulio, Chapter 6
++All TG: Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM); B. Johnson, PFM-IFI report; Pratt district court decision
Spiritual Capital V: Saints march in?
++All TG: Religious nonprofits in post-Katrina New Orleans; Fox reports including P. Fitzmaurice
Religion and Politics I: The “orthodox” vote
++TG 1: 2002 elections
++TG 2: 2004 elections
++TG 3: 2006 elections
++TG 4: 2008 elections
Religion and Politics II: The 44th President’s “hope”
Religion and Politics III: Obama for “faith-based”?
++All TG: July 1, 2008 speech; Democratic convention; first 50 days in office
Religion and Politics IV: “Dear President Obama”
++Individual letters on faith-based
Faith-based Policy Future I: “Target blessings”?
>>DiIulio, Chapter 7
Faith-based Policy Future II: “Spiritualpolitique”
++All TG: Philip Jenkins writings; Council on Foreign Relations
Faith-based Policy Future III: Sectarian foreign aid?
++All TG: USAID funding to religious groups abroad
++In-class second two-thirds examination
Religion, the Nonprofit Sector, and U.S. Public Policy
++Book review essays due in class
Course Background, Description, and Mission
Tax-exempt organizations in the United States take in an estimated $1 trillion a year in revenues. By virtually every measure, America’s so-called nonprofit sector has grown dramatically over the last half-century. Organizations as diverse as private universities, homeless shelters, sports leagues, scientific research associations, private (or “gated”) residential communities, and many others are recognized by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as nonprofit organizations and qualify under federal and state laws for multiple financial benefits that so-called for-profit organizations (for example, business corporations) do not enjoy.
By most measures, religious nonprofit organizations—-churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious congregations or houses of worship; organizations formally-legally connected to “parent” religious federations, denominations, or congregations; so-called faith-based organizations that supply social services ranging from large national ones like Catholic Charities USA to small local ones including so-called “storefront ministries;” and others—-are the largest single component of the Nation’s nonprofit sector. There is, however, almost as much organizational variation within that sub-sector as there is between “religious nonprofits” and other nonprofit organizations. Moreover, many “faith-based organizations” are led, organized, administered, or financed in collaboration with “secular nonprofits,” for-profit firms or businesses, and government or public agencies.
America’s diverse religious nonprofit sub-sector is also shaped by the fact that “religion” in the U.S. is attended by special constitutional benefits and burdens. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution begins with two religion clauses, one concerning citizens’ “free exercise” rights and the other prohibiting “an establishment of religion.” These clauses have been variously interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, by lower federal courts, and by state courts. Major political movements have arisen in response to real or perceived changes in the constitutional status and standing of “religion,” including a late-nineteenth century movement against Catholic immigrants that resulted in so-called Blaine amendments being added to many state constitutions. Such constitutional and political developments have been, and continue to be, consequential in determining how religious nonprofit organizations arise, persist, change, and relate to each other, to the rest of the nonprofit sector, to businesses, and, of course, to government at all levels (federal, state, and local).
But the causal arrows, as it were, between constitutional and political developments, on the one side, and religion and religious nonprofit organizations, on the other side, have always flown both ways simultaneously. For instance, the most recent political movement bearing on religious nonprofit organizations began in the early 1980’s. It has since been associated with constitutional and public policy changes that have, in the main, been supported by top leaders in both political parties, including all five U.S. Presidents from President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989), a Republican, to President Barack Obama (2009- ), a Democrat. And, albeit hardly without constitutional and political controversies, it has resulted in increased collaboration between religious nonprofits and public agencies, including, but by no means limited to, increased federal and state funding for “faith-based programs” and “faith-based initiatives.”
When ideologically diverse democratic political leaders persist in moving in the same basic policy direction over decades, they usually are heeding real or perceived changes in mass public beliefs and attitudes. In this case, contrary to the “secularization” thesis that was almost uniformly touted by academic experts for most of the twentieth century, Americans have been, and continue to be, a highly religious people.
In America today, surveys by the Gallup Organization and other top polling firms report that wide popular majorities, no matter their socioeconomic status, demographic description, or geographic jurisdiction, say they believe in God (over 90%), never doubt God’s existence (over 70%), pray daily (over 70%), and think that religion can solve many of today’s problems (over 60%). A Baylor University survey conducted in 2006 reported that religious affiliation in America breaks down pretty much as follows:
- Evangelical Protestant 33.6%
- Mainline Protestant 22.1%
- No religious affiliation 10.8%
Even, however, among the roughly 11 percent of Americans claiming “no religious affiliation,” 62% said they believed in God, and 31.6% said they prayed occasionally. According to data reported by the National Conference on Citizenship and other bodies, among all Americans, between 1975 and 2005, there was an increase in those never going to church or other worship services, but there was also an increase in those going to church weekly or more.
In conjunction, numerous political science studies (most notably by the University of Akron’s John Green and others) find that U.S. political behavior, most particularly voting behavior in presidential and congressional elections, is affected powerfully (that is, by a statistically significant margin that persists even after “controlling for” age, race, region, and other variables) by religious affiliations and affinities, with regular church-goers and “religious conservatives” of all faiths significantly more likely to vote Republican, and “un-churched” citizens and “religious progressives” of all faiths (or none) significantly more likely to vote Democratic.
Americans’ persistent and, by some measures, growing religiosity stands in stark contrast to the decline in religious beliefs and practices in Western Europe, but is right in keeping with the explosion in religious activities and organization-building in most of the rest of the world, most particularly in the southern hemisphere. As numerous studies have documented (most notably research by Penn State’s Professor Philip Jenkins), Christianity and Islam are the two fastest-growing religions in the world today.
In addition to the role played by mass public opinion and trends in religious affiliation, the most recent constitutional and political debates concerning “religion” and its role in “the public square” have been attended by, and in some particular respects stimulated by, an explosion in social science research. Much of this research concerns how, if at all, religious beliefs, religious organizations, religious communities (or communities with high densities of “churched” individuals and/or institutions), and other “faith factors” matter in relation to various measures of individual, social, and civic health or well being.
The view that what is now popularly known as “social capital” varies directly with pro-social behavior and positive civic outcomes, and the finding (most notably by Harvard’s Professor Robert Putnam and his colleagues) that most “social capital” in America is, in effect, “spiritual capital” begat by religious individuals, institutions, and communities, has influenced the most recent constitutional and political debates.
So, too, have massive empirical studies (most notably by Penn’s Professor Ram Cnaan and his colleagues) documenting that, in cities from coast to coast, religious nonprofit organizations supply tremendous amounts of social services to low-income children, youth, families, and communities, typically without regard to the beneficiaries’ religion (or lack thereof), and without any direct government aid. A separate but related research literature has begun to document the pivotal role played by religiously-affiliated Non-Governmental Organizations (so-called NGOs) in delivering health and human services and administering foreign aid abroad.
It is not a history course, but there is no way to tackle this topic without exploring the relevant history in more than casual depth.
It is not a constitutional theory or law course, but there is no understanding “establishment” or “Blaine amendments” or “neutrality doctrine,” and no intelligent grappling with actual court decisions, without adequate background study of the topic’s constitutional dimensions.
It is not a course on American politics, policymaking, or public administration, but trying to decipher even the latest twists and turns in, say, federal policy on “faith-based organizations” without knowing more than a little about how legislative-executive relations generally works in Washington today, or how the national government actually administers nearly every policy it funds in whole or in part, not via its own national government employees or bureaucrats, but instead via “government-by-proxy” networks including state and local governments, for-profit firms, and nonprofit organizations including religious ones, is futile.
It is not a course in social science research or empirical research methods, but one needs to be conversant, if not fluent, in the relevant “faith factor” research literatures on religion in order to understand not only how its findings ostensibly have influenced actual constitutional or political happenings, but also to independently question the (often quite questionable!) scientific cast and character of that research, and render independent, informed opinions about how, if at all, given “findings” should influence future legal or administrative decision-making.
It is not a course on “the nonprofit sector” or how nonprofits are, or ought to be, managed, governed, or overseen by government authorities, from local politicians to IRS bureaucrats. Still, the bedrock “public policy” reality concerning “religion” in America is that most of the public laws that affect it most directly and consequentially are actually “administrative laws” or “rules” governing the terms and conditions under which religious nonprofit organizations either receive given public benefits, beginning with tax-exempt status itself, and encompassing tax-deductible donations as well as government grants, contracts, vouchers, or other goods or services supplied under public law and at public expense. Any active effort to “improve” what happens at the intersection of religion, the nonprofit sector, and public policy is ultimately tantamount to promoting prescribed changes in public laws and rules governing the nonprofit sector itself.
Finally, it is not a course on moral reasoning or public policy ethics, but to decide what, if any, changes to make in public laws or rules governing the nonprofit sector in general, or the religious nonprofit sub-sector in particular, is to make moral and ethical choices among and between multiple and competing values:
- For instance, religious properties are tax exempt. Should they be? If you don’t tax them, do you to that degree “establish religion,” and, if so, is that good, bad, or what? If you did tax them, however, would you thereby discourage, deter, or (if you tax them highly enough, perhaps) destroy religious “free exercise,” and, if so, would that be good, bad, or what?
- Or consider that a dollar donated to Penn by a rich alum (like, say, your professor!) really only costs him or her about 70 cents because rich people who support well-endowed nonprofits can itemize the donation on their federal income tax return and get a deduction for it at about that (30%) rate. Meanwhile, a low-income church-going lady in West Philly, a few blocks off campus, puts a dollar in her church basket to support the church’s free-to-all after-school program for local children in need, but, because she is too poor to itemize, it costs her the whole dollar. Problem?
- What about the fact that Penn and lesser but richer private universities (Princeton!) also hold tax-exempt property (what is the cost of that to local public coffers?) and get tax-deductible donations (foregone tax revenues to support government programs) plus enormous amounts of money directly from government in such forms as tax-funded college loans (from the “customers” called students) and tax-funded research or research-related grants and contracts (does Penn get more money from alumni donations or from government grants each year?). The poor church-going lady in West Philly who is struggling to keep that after-school program going, and is proud that her grandson graduated from Penn State, a public university, wants to know why Penn (or, God forbid, Princeton!) enjoys so many tax-funded benefits. What’s the best (policy-relevant, moral-ethical, “social justice”) reply?
- Finally, imagine that the church lady demands to know what Penn means by being a “nonsectarian” private university rather than a “religious” one, and if Penn would refuse to help fund Penn students of her faith who might come together as a student religious association to help mentor or teach reading to the local needy children in her after-school program: What would a good Penn Quaker (“Quakers”?) reply to her be?