The Case Against 'Charitable Choice'

Bad Public Policy
Bad for Religion

Related ADL Articles:
School Vouchers
Separation of Church and State

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The Case Against 'Charitable Choice'
Why Government funding for faith-based social services
endangers religious freedom

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 for religion.

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