On August 29, 2014, Governor Jan Brewer signed Executive Order 2014-06, establishing the Office of Faith and Community Partnerships and the Arizona Council on Faith and Community Partnerships.
This new Office and Council replace the Arizona SERVES taskforce and website, established by Executive Order 2010-07 and 2010-16. The current board of the Arizona SERVES taskforce includes:
- Five Christian Pastors
- Seven Leaders of Christian-based non-profit organizations (including the lobbying group “Center for Arizona Policy”, an organization which is well-known for its extremist religious agenda)
- Three State Employees
- Two Undefined “Public Advocates”
- Two Leaders from secular non-profit organizations
ArizonaSERVES was tasked with five goals:
- Encourage foster care
- Facilitate free/reduced child care services
- Provide supervised CPS visits
- Promote elder independence/assist grandparents raising grandchildren
- Provide transportation to underserved
From review of the ArizonaSERVES minutes and executive summary (2014), the taskforce emphasizes focus on recruiting Christian foster care homes for children in the child welfare system. The other goals of the taskforce have been mostly neglected.
The Office of Faith and Community Partnerships was created by Executive Leadership at the Arizona Department of Economic Security, with Director Carter announcing it during the Arizona SERVES meeting on November 16, 2012. The Office is staffed by Chuck Fitzgerald and Jamie Bennett.
Concerns over the Council and Office of Faith and Community Partnerships (EO 2014-06)
Executive Order 2014-06 specifically states “The Office may accept monies from local, state or federal government sources, other public agencies, or non-governmental organizations, and monies donated or awarded by any other entities. The monies shall be expended solely for the purposes provided in this Executive Order and accounted for as provided by law.”
Historically the Arizona SERVES taskforce focused on non-money based opportunities, specifically recruiting Christian foster families for children in the child welfare system.
It is clear, based on the history reflected in their minutes, that Arizona SERVES focused mostly on Christian congregations and “Houses of Worship” and very little on secular non-profits.
It could be assumed that, without proper oversight, funds could easily be mismanaged.
Section 12 of the Arizona State Constitution states: No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise, or instruction, or to the support of any religious establishment.
Arizona SERVES and the Arizona Council for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives is a move to unnecessarily widen the scope of Government. There are several private organizations and coalitions through Maricopa County whose mission is the same as the Arizona SERVES, and in fact, Arizona SERVES has partnered with these organizations to facilitate their own strategic planning. There is no public outcry for this type of organization and no real need in the community for it.
Secular Policy Recommendations
Secular Coalition for Arizona would first and foremost like Executive Orders 2014-06, 2010-16, and 2010-07 rescinded. This is the best way to ensure Secular Public Policy and Secular Government. However, given the current political environment, it is doubtful that this will occur. Therefore, if the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives stays in place, we recommend the following:
1. Proper Oversight and Management of Funds
- If funds are awarded to faith-based or non-profit organizations, funds are awarded based on existing statewide grant requirements and accountability.
- Programs receiving taxpayer funds are free of religious content.
- Programs receiving taxpayer funds allow participation without having to engage in worship, prayer, devotional readings, or inquiries into religious beliefs.
2. Balance the Council Membership among Faith Groups and Secular Non-Profit Organizations
- Broaden faith-based membership to include members from a variety of religious backgrounds.
- Appoint members from non-profit community service agencies with clear secular missions.
3. Hold the Office and Council Accountable for Funds
- Authorize annual financial audit from the Office of the Auditor General.