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Remarks by Secretary Andrew Cuomo
The Role of Faith and Justice in Public Policy

Community 2020 Forum - November 30, 1999

Thank you all. Good evening. Thank you Joseph Hacala for the kind introduction and more than that, thank you for what you have done here at HUD. Joe Hacala had one of the toughest jobs in Government, which is to create something where nothing existed before. What he has done with the Center for Community and Interfaith Partnerships has literally to bring an institutional seat to the table for the not-for-profits and the faith-based community.

HUD does housing and community development. But if you look at our institutional relationships, we work primarily with local governments and housing authorities. There is no direct role in many of our programs for not-for-profits and community based organizations, let alone faith-based, and that's what the Center does. It is the seat at the table for the not-for-profits, which a growing force in housing and community development. And he has done it extraordinarily, extraordinarily well. His whole team has done a great job. Jennifer Quinn is here today, and she's been great.

I'm going to be brief because we have an all-star panel today and they know this topic better than anyone -- they are the leading minds in the nation on this topic and I have very little to add. Dr. Yvonne Delk, Rabbi David Saperstein, Reverend Jim Wallis, my good friend Mayor Emanuel Cleaver, who is no stranger to us at HUD. But what you may not know is that the Lord has already weighed in on tonight's event. Mayor Cleaver had a knee replacement operation, he's recuperating for six weeks, but here we are only three weeks later and the Lord said, you can attend that HUD forum on faith-based communities. So the Lord is with us tonight.

What you'll hear tonight from this panel is that there is a real dynamic tension between two very powerful forces. On the one hand, there is the tremendous potential that the faith-based organizations can bring to housing, economic development, community development and empowerment. They have tens of thousands of organizations all across the country, an infrastructure that you could not duplicate, and over one million employees basically in the mission of housing, community development, empowerment.

Possibly one of the most powerful forces that we could ever unleash in this war is already present in the faith-based organizations. Different religions, different credos, but all with the same basic mission.

So there is tremendous potential in the faith-based community. That's on the one hand. On the other hand is a nation that prides itself and was founded on freedom of religion, and is rightfully very skittish about the connection between government and religion. That is why it is literally the first amendment to the U.S. constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

How you balance those two is very much a subject for our discussion tonight and for the discussion going forward. How do you use this great potential of the faith-based organizations who want to do this work, and want to do this good service, but not step over the line towards entanglement of government and religion or establishment of religion. What is that balance?

And this is going to be an even hotter topic as we go forward. The "Charitable Choice" provision is going to drive it. You'll start to hear about that now in the current political dialogue.

We at HUD believe we have a very good, practical working model for resolving this conflict. We have a long history of working with the faith-based community, with not-for-profits, on housing, on economic development, through our Section 202 elderly program. The 202 program -- our senior citizen housing program -- is primarily done, almost 40 percent, by not-for-profit, faith-based organizations. Lutheran Services in America has 45,000 units of housing. B'Nai B'rith, Jewish Federation, Catholic Charities. These are very big providers today of housing services to seniors using government funds, and it's working extraordinarily, extraordinarily well. It's a practical example of the right balance.

It's the same story in our homeless and special needs programs. This past year we made 230 grants, about $114 million, to faith-based organizations to provide homeless services. And 200 faith-based organizations are today receiving funds from us to provide housing for people with AIDS. Habitat for Humanity -- Tom Jones is here - is another example of how government can work together with a faith-based, not for profit organization, allowing both to do what they need to do and what they do best without an unnecessary entanglement.

So it is a good debate, it is a necessary debate, it is a very real tension, but it is also a very resolvable issue, and an issue that can be dealt with practically. Let me cite a couple of areas that, given our experience here, we're going to be focusing on as we move ahead.

First, many faith-based organizations focus on the individual, as they should. We're going to be working with faith-based organizations to expand the lens somewhat from beyond just the individual relationship to the community building relationship.

We believe firmly that with all this great strength, and all this progress, and all the profits from the new economy, you also have some very powerful forces that if we're not careful can be negative and destructive. We have many forces that tend to be separating us and pulling us apart. We have many forces that are conspiring against community. You have technological forces, economic forces, racial forces, spatial forces that are literally pulling us apart. Faith-based organizations, by their very mission, can pull us together.

For all the up side of the new technology, the Internet has an ability to isolate us like nothing else has before. There is all this talk of the "home-centered" society -- you can stay at home and you can do business via e-mail. You never have to walk next door and shake hands, you don't have to go to a shopping mall. You can date over the Internet. You don't have to deal with anyone. On one hand that's nice, but on the other hand that's the exact opposite of building and forging community.

There is a racial divide in this nation that in some ways I believe is as bad as ever. It is not as loud as ever, and maybe it's not as vulgar as ever, but it is alive and well. It pains us to acknowledge it, because we like to think that it is a stain from our past and we have gotten past that. Certainly on the cusp of the new millennium we couldn't have racism in America? We sure do. Sometimes it's visible and vulgar as it was in the fifties and the sixties, sometimes it's more subtle, but it is alive and well.

We know it here at this Department because we do it week-in and week-out. We did a case last week in Long Island. A white woman rents a home - a grandmother. A couple of weeks later her grandson visits her. The grandson is biracial, looks African American, and she is evicted because the landlord says we don't want any African Americans in our home. That's today that that happened, in Long Island, New York, the northeast, where I'm from, a progressive part of the country. So it's alive and well.

There is an economic divide that is alive and well and growing. Yes, great profits, but polarizing like never before. And there is a spatial divide. The average family now spends 434 hours a year driving in their cars. We've gone a long way to get away from each other. What's going to pull us together? We think faith-based organizations can do that.

Second, we're going to be working with faith-based organizations to get beyond charity to justice. Beyond charity to justice. Let's stop arguing for the crumbs from the table in the name of kindness, and argue for a seat at the table in the name of justice. (Applause)

Charity is right, and charity has a good purpose. There are homeless people out there tonight, let's bring them a blanket, let's get them a warm meal, let's give them an act of charity and brotherhood. But let's also do justice and let's get to the underlying problem that caused it in the first place. The problem, the reason we have homeless people -- one of the main reasons -- is that we don't have affordable housing. The blanket is nice, the piece of bread is nice. Safe, clean, decent housing is better -- that is justice, and we have to start moving back towards that. (Applause).

We have great mentoring programs and we have great after-school programs to give inner city youth a helping hand, but justice would say, let's give them a public education system that is educating them the way they need to be educated in the first place. We have many families who have trouble paying the rent and buying food. And we have great local pantries that are helping feed families, and that is a great act of charity. But let's remember the demand for justice that says, let's have a minimum wage that allows a person to both pay rent and pay for food to feed his or her family. So charity yes, but not over justice. (Applause).

And thirdly, we need to be doing more, and we're going to be doing more, with the faith-based groups that we work with. But we're also going to be doing more to reach out to this great network that is out there, this great infrastructure that I mentioned earlier. Eighty-nine percent of the faith-based organizations do some type of social service or housing work - 89 percent. But only four percent are in partnership with Government. That has to change. We can't lose this great resource that exists in the faith-based community.

My last point is this. We do not have every religion represented tonight --we couldn't possibly. But this is less, in my opinion, about specific religions and specific sets of belief, and more about the common denominator that runs through and across all religious organizations, all faith-based organizations.

There is almost a universal common denominator that talks about love of God being synonymous with love of neighbor. You can't truly have love of a God without having love of a neighbor. And you can't truly pursue faith without pursuit of justice.

Different religions say it different ways. Rabbi Saperstein's religion will talk about the Tikkun Olam - heal, transform and repair the world, reach out to the universe as their fundamental concept.

Joe Hacala will talk about Matthew 25: "Whenever you fail to help any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seem, you fail to do it for me."

The Protestant theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr will say "Anything short of love cannot be perfect justice".

The Dalai Llama will say, "the heart of Buddhist philosophy is the notion of compassion for others".

One of the five pillars of Islam is to help care for your neighbors by donating to the needy regularly.

They are all saying the same thing. They are saying religiously what we've been trying to say here at HUD governmentally: we are all in this together.

We are all interconnected and we are all interrelated and that very simple recognition is the beginning of the solution. Once you say the racial harm to my brother is a harm to me, once you say the homeless brother and sister who sleeps on the street tonight is my brother and sister, once you say the person who goes hungry tonight is my brother, that the Native American on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation tonight - with 73 percent unemployment -- is my soul mate, the young child in Chicago Housing Authority tonight is my daughter.

Once you believe in those interconnections, that is the solution, because the injustice is not to someone else, it is to you. And once you accept that notion, that I am part of a larger being, that I am part of a community, and that my salvation is the salvation of the community, and the harm to the community is the harm to me, once you accept that very basic notion, that is the first step down this road. Faith-based organizations do it by their very essence and core. We do it governmentally. In partnership there will be no stopping us.

Now let's hear from the experts. Thank you for being with us, and I look forward to the questions.

Content Archived: January 20, 2009

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