Monday, May 17, 2010

Social Work & Religion: A Duty to Inform

As we entered into week two, the class was given the assignment to read pages 178- 207, a section of our textbook that described the field of social work and its inherent affiliation with religion. The authors, Philip Popple and Leslie Leighninger, spent a significant amount of time detailing the religious roots of social welfare. They highlight that this religious affiliation was not limited to one specific cohort. Rather, Popple and Leighninger explain that associations span numerous populations including early Egyptian, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim cultures. In fact, they attribute the profession of social work to three specific movements, each having derived from the church: Charity Organization Society (COS) movement, Settlement House movement, and the development of institutions to deal with an entire range of social problems.

Eventually, the field of social work became more secular. Following the general secularization of society, public view began to stray from the “God’s Will” mentality of unfortunate events. Instead, individuals began to seek scientific, rational explanations for more of life’s events. As the growth of government services increased, funding with religious affiliation decreased. The 1960’s and 1970’s brought along with it waves of new students entering the social work profession, fueled by political and ideological incentives rather than religious motives.

Today, it can be argued that the tides are once again turning. The argument that social work has begun to see the reversal of secularization does not go without merit. In the past few years there has been a large amount of growth in conservative churches. Principles such as lack of birth control have fostered large population increases. Since President Reagan, trends in governmental control have shifted to incorporate more religious association. Communities continue to see the establishment and growth of professional organizations such as the North American Association of Christians in Social Work. Education programs continue to develop, offering a religious focus while those in doctoral pursuits are choosing dissertations with a religious aim. Still, social work and religion continue to be sensitive companions.

It has been a common argument that religion presents difficulties for both the individual social worker and agency. Those with strong religious views tend be less concerned with the material needs of the client. Agencies face concern with policies that outline client self- determination and non-judgementalism. Furthermore, most agencies agree that social work is not a place for “whitnessing”. The subject is often the topic of much debate and has not gone without capturing the attention of the media.

Author George Will begins his piece Code of Coercion by recapping the 1943 Supreme Court case, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, where it was determined that government funded schools could not force children in attendance to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. He goes on to argue that this decision continues to be disparaged by teachers at public universities, particularly in the field of social work. Fortunately, George Will’s accusations fall apart with minimal investigation. Highlighted as a shining example of his allegations, Will tells the story of a former UIS student, Sandra Fuiten, who halted her pursuit of a BSW after a professor “told her that it is impossible to be both a social worker and an opponent of abortion” (Will, 2007). Between her comments for the Indianapolis Star and her self- written article, Anti- Catholic Social Work, one can see through her use of language and inconsistencies that her credibility is questionable at best. At one point, Fuiten states, “Surely Jane Addams has turned over in her grave myriad times, but I am sure she has at least for me.” I think, the only one that would be turning over in their grave would be Ms. Sandra Fuiten’s legal consultant.

All things considered, I challenge Mr. Will to pay homage to several other famous Supreme Court cases such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Roe v. Wade (1973), and United States v. Nixon (1974). For in the company of educators, doctors, and government officials, social workers share the responsibility of informing the individual(s) in which they serve regardless of race, gender, status, political affiliation, or religious identification. It is not a question of forgoing personal beliefs but rather maintaining client autonomy and self-determination.

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