Atlanta-- It passed unanimously in a Senate committee earlier this week, and Thursday, Senators voted 40-14 to approve a constitutional amendment to allow religious groups to compete for state dollars.
Governor Sonny Perdue has proposed legalizing state contracts with religious organizations that help the needy and poor. Opponents of the faith-based initiative are worried it will open the door to vouchers and put churches at the mercy of government bureaucrats.
Robert Beckum is the Senior Minister at First United Methodist Church in Albany. He's keeping a close watch on what's going on at the Capitol. "By the letter of the law faith-based institution cannot recieve tax dollars with the Blaine Amendment as it is right now," said Beckum.
Georgia's Blaine Amendment prohibits state funds to help out religious organizations. Beckum believes groups like the Albany Rescue Mission would be threatened if the amendment is not changed. "The people who would be hurt would be the neediest citizens in the state," the pastor says.
It's a controversial topic-- mixing church and state, but on the first day of the 2004 Georgia legislative session, lawmakers were greeted with a framed print of the 10 commandments. But Senator Michael Meyer Von Bremen says it's been a rushed deal; that the Rules Committee was surprised on Monday. "The first notice we got about it was at 3:00 when we walked into the committee room."
Governor Perdue's Senate floor leader Dan Lee disagrees. "I don't know where he's getting the idea that this thing is being rushed. This issue has been before people for a long, long time."
Lee says he introduced the bill a month ago. Meanwhile, like many religious leaders, Beckum, will wait and see. "I just think it's really imperative that it is resolves, otherwise a number of agencies that will not be able to function."
The faith-based initiative is expected to have a tougher time in the Democrat-controlled House. If passed, Georgia's Constitution would be in step with the U.S. constitution.
The Blaine Amendment has been a part of the Georgia constitution since the late nineteenth century. It was named after a Catholic United States Senator, James Blaine, of Maine.