Amplify Austin rescinds rules limiting religious-based nonprofit projects

tom-spencerDid a clarification to its terms of participation intend to block faith-based nonprofits from raising funds through Amplify Austin, the 24-hour community fundraising event? Considering long-time interfaith activist, Tom Spencer, is the executive director of I Live Here, I Give Here, which produces the event, it seems unlikely. And yet three faith-based nonprofits decided not to participate because of the new terms.

On Friday, February 27, the Austin American-Statesman reported that three local nonprofits had decided not to participate in Amplify Austin because new rules for participation restricted how nonprofits could use the money they raised through the campaign. Amplify Austin is produced by the nonprofit I Live Here, I Give Here (ILHIGH).

The new terms for nonprofit participation were clarified in October 2014 and “emphasized that fundraising efforts of faith-based nonprofits should be directed toward social service programs that are non-proselytizing and do not promote religious doctrine or instruction,” says ILHIGH.

Claiming the new terms would restrict their missions, the Austin Pregnancy Resource Center, the Agape Pregnancy Resource Center and Vision Luke 4:18 Ministries bowed out over new rules made for the 2015 Amplify Austin. Each of these organizations uses religion to women in crisis or women who are pregnant.

A statement sent to GivingCity yesterday from Amplify Austin producers, I Live Here, I Give Here, states that it has now rescinded that part of the terms:

“This week, it was brought to our attention that three faith-based nonprofits opted to withdraw from this year’s fundraising event due to clarifications in our policies made in October of 2014. Some organizations have interpreted this clarification as an effort to exclude all religiously motivated service work, which was never our intent. As a result, we have decided to rescind this clarification in our policy. I Live Here, I Give Here values the work of faith-based nonprofits. In fact, a significant number of these organizations have participated in Amplify Austin since its inception in 2013.”

Up until February 10, Agape had posted on its Facebook page that it would be participating in Amplify Austin. But according to a statement made Agape Pregnancy Resource Center on February 27:

“Agape’s mission is to ‘demonstrate and share the life-changing message of Jesus Christ by providing practical help and loving support to those in an unplanned pregnancy.’  … in our classes, we talk about Jesus and use the Bible as the basis for teaching parenting, relationship and other skills. So, as we told Tom… our programs are unapologetically ‘proselytizing’…sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with all who enter our doors… And, the money raised from the Amplify Austin event would go directly to support these programs. As such, we would be in violation of their terms of agreement.”

While it doesn’t appear that Agape or Vision Luke will be participating in Amplify Austin, the Austin Pregnancy Resource Center appears to be hosting a 24-hour giving day concurrent with Amplify …. but not Amplify… calling theirs the “Take Back Austin” campaign. According to a statement on its website:

“…we will not be participating in the Amplify Austin campaign this year, however, we believe that we should not just walk away….Now, more than ever, is the time for us to stand and stand boldly and unashamedly and not try to dance around this…. We should not be silent about this!”

Though Amplify Austin says excluding religion-based nonprofit projects was never its intent, Austin Pregnancy Resource Center states, “This (new rule) is directed solely at the faith-based community as you can clearly see by their terms and agreement…”

What’s baffling about the interpretation is that the new rules were created while Tom Spencer was at the helm of I Live Here, I Give Here. Spencer replaced founder and former executive director Patsy Woods Martin in September 2013.

Before joining ILHIGH in September 2013, Spencer served as CEO of Interfaith Action of Central Texas or iACT for more than five years. iACT ‘s mission is to convene people and organizations of all faiths in community service projects, and included among its members are more than a dozen Catholic churches. Spencer was responsible for increasing the visibility and adding new outreach and programs while at the help of iACT, and in a Statesman essay from September 2012, he wrote, “At iACT, we recognize that the kind of ‘radically pluralistic’ community … is best achieved when we harness the shared compassion of people of all faiths — and put it to work through collaborative action.”

Regardless of ILHIGHs original intention for adding the clarification about religious groups, it has now rescinded that part of the terms. More than 500 other nonprofits will participate in the 24-hour, citywide giving event.

 

 

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