Proponents of religious freedom in America have long recognized that
government and religion make poor bedfellows. As Justice Hugo Black
observed, "a union of government and religion tends to destroy government
and degrade religion." In recent years, however, legislators at both
the Federal and state levels have been proposing initiatives that fly
in the face of this hard-earned lesson. Like many bad ideas, these initiatives
often have names that offer no hint of their real impact. One such bad
idea has been dubbed "charitable choice" by its supporters.
The Federal "charitable choice" measure, which was first adopted in
1996 as part of the welfare reform bill, mandates that whenever the
Federal Government allows private organizations to assist in the distribution
of welfare benefits, the Government must also allow religious organizations
and sectarian institutions, which integrate religious practices into
their programs, to have an equal opportunity to participate.1
If the Federal Government decides to let a private organization provide
counseling services, for example, then the Government must also consider
the bids of religious institutions when deciding with whom to contract.
A growing number of politicians currently favor an expanded church-state
partnership in a wide range of social welfare activities. Some who support
"charitable choice" do so in an effort to downsize the Government's
commitment to anti-poverty programs or as part of an effort to shift
the cost of providing such services to faith-based organizations. Legislation
has been introduced in Congress to extend the "charitable choice" concept
beyond welfare programs to such areas as job training, juvenile delinquency
prevention initiatives, and drug rehabilitation programs. Further, numerous
similar programs, also calling themselves "charitable choice," have
been introduced in state legislatures across the country.
Even in these days of unprecedented prosperity, millions of Americans
live in poverty and must meet the challenge of getting by -- not to
mention moving up in the world -- with little assistance from the Government.
ADL recognizes that, while state and Federally funded programs like
food stamps and welfare provide much needed assistance to the nation's
poor, many families rely on charities -- including those affiliated
with religious organizations. In many inner cities, some of the most
effective groups making a real difference in the lives of the community
are religious institutions, whose outreach programs provide food, shelter
and counseling to even the most destitute.
Nonetheless, ADL opposes "charitable choice" initiatives because we believe
that they are unconstitutional, bad public policy and fundamentally bad