Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Faith-based Community Action

Most of you know I work for a hospice. My hospice has a caregiver support program that is conducted by one of our chaplains. I have worked closely with her on my own initiative to integrate her program into our electronic medical record. The more information our clinicians have about what's going on with a family (and hospice treats the entire family when it is done well) the better the care can be. Getting this information into our patient's charts was a win-win because it also provided evidence to the people who fund the program that work is being done.

The program is directed by a Christian Chaplain, who has a Masters of Divinity and extensive training in clinical counseling. We train Chaplains at our agency, which gives us the benefit of retaining the cream of the crop. She is one of the most charming and naturally therapeutic people I've ever known. I know she's a Christian, I do not know what denomination, I've never asked, she's never volunteered. She does wear a clerical collar from time to time.

She primarily conducts four distinct community service groups, one is at a nursing home, one is at our in-patient unit, and two are at a community church. These are caregiver support groups, each a little different, all designed to provide support and comfort to family caregivers of hospice patients. They aren't fancy, just talking, listening, seeing others' experience, having one's own experience seen, sharing some snacks, coffee, etc.

Now, the nursing home and the hospital both receive governmental funds to support the costs of providing the environment for these groups. Providing this environment promotes the mission and work product of these organizations, it's promotional advertising to make it known that these things exist in these places. That nursing home has a leg up on other nursing homes who lack such a service, the same goes for the hospital which houses our in-patient unit.

My hospice, which is mostly supported by Medicare, has a dozen or so Chaplains. We have several demoniations of Christians, a number of Rabbis of different persuasions, and a Buddhist Priest (not me). Medicare dollars pay their salaries. They provide secular services, spiritual counseling, which is a part of the hospice benefit, written into the Federal Regulations. They are all moved to provide this service because their Faith compels them too, however, including the Buddhist.

My reading of The First Amendment restricts the government from laws concerning the establishment of religion. They used the word "promotion" in the last 1700's. They didn't use it here. So, even if one wants to argue that funding the secular services provided by religious organizations promotes said organizations, there is little to distinguish that from analogous promotion of non-religious providers of social services. Why is it okay to fund secular services provided by an academic institution, for example, or at a multi-national corporation, but not at a religious organization?

That kind of disenfranchisement seems to me to smack of lawmaking which actively undermines religion. That a First Amendment problem in my book.

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