The House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would
dramatically expand government funding to sectarian institutions and religious
This particular measure (H.R, 7 – "Community Solutions Act of 2001)
takes several serious steps backward from even the minimal protections
offered in previous "charitable choice" provisions enacted into law:
- Recipients of government contracts are explicitly permitted to
discriminate in hiring and promotion decisions on the basis of religion;
- Program participants are not ensured access to secular alternative
- Beneficiaries who receive indirect aid or vouchers for social welfare
services can still be subjected to proselytizing, worship or religious
instruction – under circumstances which would make such proselytizing
virtually impossible to monitor;
- Extremists and hate-mongers could receive taxpayer money.
ADL supports the measure’s very modest tax incentives to promote corporate
and private charitable giving, but we strongly oppose other provisions which
expand "charitable choice" without essential safeguards
While there is no currently no Senate counterpart to this measure, it is possible that the measure will come to the floor sometime during this session.
Why Oppose "Charitable Choice" without essential safeguards
"Charitable Choice" is unconstitutional.
These programs plainly violate the First Amendment's prohibition against direct
funding that promotes religious beliefs. Allowing churches, synagogues, and
mosques 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 prevent.
"Charitable choice" is bad public policy. These initiatives
threaten 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 be proselytized or feel pressured to participate in religious
practice in order to receive their benefits. In addition, "Charitable
choice" explicitly creates, for the first time, the possibility of
Federally-funded employment discrimination on the basis of religion.
"Charitable Choice" is harmful for religion. These programs
raise serious concerns about the possibility of government entanglement with
religious practices and are likely to result in unwelcome, divisive competition
among religious groups before elected officials for scarce government funds.
Choice" is a departure from past practice. For
decades, "religiously-affiliated" social service agencies, such as
Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Charities and Jewish Federations, have
received very substantial direct government subsidies for providing a variety of
quasi-governmental services. These groups, separately-incorporated from
religious institutions (like churches and synagogues), have always operated
under certain structural restrictions which guard against the possibility
of any religious coercion or employment discrimination.
However, "charitable choice," first adopted as part of the 1996
welfare reform bill, mandates that whenever the Federal Government allows
private organizations to perform social welfare services, the government must
also allow sectarian institutions to have an equal opportunity to participate.
For the first time, these provisions permit churches, synagogues, and other
pervasively sectarian institutions to receive direct government funding --
without necessary safeguards -- to administer on-site social services and
public health benefits on behalf of the government. In addition,
"charitable choice" explicitly permits these institutions to
discriminate on the basis of religion in hiring, firing, and promotion decisions
for these federally-funded service programs.
Updated July 24, 2001