Calvin College maintains a special partnership with the Christian Reform Church. (http://www.calvin.edu/about/who-we-are/church.html) It was there, last February, that Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet announced a new program for Peace Corps, a Faith Based Initiative, to ” connect with faith-based NGOs and networks in the United States, and also to better support communities of faith overseas.”Here, again, is the link to her remarks: http://www.calvin.edu/chimes/2015/02/12/peace-corps-director-opens-up-on-faith-development-and-changes-in-the-peace-corps/
The actual Peace Corps program, as I understand it, is in its early stages of development. To read, again, the Statement of Work, Faith Based Advisor, Office of Strategic Partnerships, here is the link:statement-of-work-faith-based-advisor-15-0122-21
I have questions about this new Faith Initiative. But first, this review:
-Since the beginning, Peace Corps Volunteers, of all faiths, have served in host countries dominated by many different faiths. Many placements have been in church run schools, universities, clinics and hospitals. Peace Corps Volunteers have always been trained to respect the cultural and religious practices of host countries of service. A Volunteer’s religion has never been a barrier to Peace Corps service. All Volunteers are entitled to First Amendment rights, with some limits on the expression of free speech in public. Peace Corps does discourage proselytizing about religion.
-Volunteers are private citizens, not personal contract employees or civil service employees. They do not enjoy civil service protections. They are private citizens who serve at the pleasure of the President. That authority is delegated down through the supervisory structure of the Peace Corps. In practice, that can give a local manager tremendous power over a Trainee/Volunteer, who will be in a foreign country for 27 months.
-Since the early 70s, almost all Volunteer training has been conducted in the host country of service.
-The training, site placement, and support for serving Volunteers has been mainly the responsibility of host country nationals, hired by the the Peace Corps. These employees are not subjective to the Five Year Rule and do provide continuity for Peace Corps programs.The Peace Corps Country Director and his immediate staff are appointed by the Peace Corps Director and are subject to the Five Year Rule.
-Peace Corps independence from USAID and the State Department was a core value of Shriver and his pioneers. Today, in contrast, the Peace Corps has developed close working relationships with USAID, the State Department, and 42 NGOs, multinational corporations, and other organizations. The Faith Initiative will be coordinated through the Peace Corps Office of Strategic Partnerships.
This is the general framework in which I present my questions:
1) First Goal of the Peace Corps is not only written in the hearts of all who have served in the Peace Corps, but it is the law that authorizes the Peace Corps and funds its operation.
- To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women
My first question is: Is this new Faith Based Initiative compatible with the Peace Corps Act?
In the description of the Statement of Work, “interested countries” or “host countries” are not mentioned, nor are “trained men and women” mentioned. There is no evidence that “communities of faith” have asked for a stronger strategic relationship.There is no evidence that “interested countries” or “host countries” have asked for this partnership. There is no evidence presented that Volunteers are having difficulty practicing their faith or that faith is a barrier to participation.
The Faith Based Advisor is charged with working with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. However, the Office works within the United States. Peace Corps work is exclusively overseas and only at the invitation of the host country. There is no evidence that host countries have invited these partnerships.
2) First Amendment of the United States Constitution:
Amendment I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances
The Faith Based Advisor is charged with:
- Develop and communicate a comprehensive strategy for the Agency’s Faith-based agenda that speaks to our broad goals and objectives alongside tactical engagement priorities.
My second question is: Do these activities, including program interpretation of various religious doctrines and the preparation of training materials, constitute in effect, the establishment of a religion?
Faith is expressed in many different ways in institutionalized religions. There are approximately 313 organized religions in the United States. These different religions have doctrines that are not necessarily mutually compatible, but may be in direct conflict with one another.White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships works in the United States with existing faith based agencies.
Peace Corps will evidently be recruiting members from these organizations, enrolling them as Peace Corps Volunteers and training and managing them overseas. The Peace Corps is a federal agency that will be directly involved with religious practices.Who will be deciding how to interpret the Agency’s Faith-based agenda? Here is a list of some of the activities that are the Agency’s responsibilities; under the “Agency’s Faith based agenda” in the Statement of Work.
“opportunity for inter-faith dialogue,”
“faith learning in preparation for service”
“recognition of faith as an expression of service for Volunteers and for staff”
“support and promote faith-based service-related events, religious holidays and conferences”
“support OPATS to develop cultural awareness and faith-centered materials and trainings for Volunteers who serve in faith-centered communities”
“advise the agency in policies and practices that are focused on Faith-based
“provide support across the agency in Faith-Based Intercultural Competencies”
These activities are directly involved with various religious doctrines and practices, in my opinion.
In my second posting, I will consider questions concerning the overseas host country staff and the religious environment in many countries.