|'Charitable Choice' is Unconstitutional
Before the passage of "charitable choice," in
order to receive government funding, religious organizations were required
to establish firewalls between their social service initiatives and their
sectarian mission programs to ensure that these services were provided
without a specific religious message and with appropriate constitutional
safeguards. Previously, religious organizations had to establish a
separately incorporated agency and offer services to all without regard to
religious belief, and were not permitted to discriminate in the hiring of
"Charitable choice" programs plainly violate the
First Amendment's prohibition against funding that promotes religious
beliefs. Allowing sectarian institutions to take the place of government
as the provider of essential services in a community will likely result in
the kind of coercion that the Establishment Clause was designed to
"Charitable choice" threatens to subject a large
segment of American society to religious coercion -- at taxpayers'
expense. Needy citizens may be directed to religious institutions where
they may feel pressured to participate in religious practice or
proselytization in order to receive their benefits. "Charitable choice"
could result, for example, in Jewish families being encouraged to listen
to Christian evangelists in order to receive government assistance.
Although many of society's most needy are likely to be the least informed
about their rights -- including their right under "charitable choice"
to request another benefit site -- the law does not require that service
providers inform beneficiaries of their right to attend non-religious
programs. A drug addict seeking court-ordered rehabilitation counseling
may be directed toward a faith-based program without understanding that
he has the option of attending a secular alternative instead. Once in
the program, he may keep quiet about his own beliefs rather than risk
being sent back to jail.
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