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U.S. GOVERNMENT CHARITABLE CHOICE PROGRAMS

Quotations, overview, opinion polls

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Sponsored link.

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Topics in this essay:

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Quotations

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Overview

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Public opinion polls

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Sponsored link:

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Quotations:

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"The 'politics of community' will be neither government doing everything, nor the churches and charities picking up the slack when government scales back. A politics of community can be strengthened when we are not afraid to make the connections between spirituality and politics." Al Gore, part of an election speech in Atlanta, GA, on 1999-MAY-24

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"In every instance where my administration sees a responsibility to help people, we will look first to faith based organizations that have shown their ability to save and change lives." George W. Bush addressing a group of religious leaders in Austin, TX, on Compassionate Conservatism during his year 2000 election campaign.

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"Without sufficient protections, religious institutions may find their autonomy threatened by government monitoring and auditing. And Americans seeking government services may find themselves subject to involuntary religious indoctrination." Charles Haynes, First Amendment Center. 1

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"...reaching out to faith-based groups that have a proven record of saving and changing lives is a top priority of President-elect Bush." Scott McClellan, transition spokesperson. 2

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"We think it's unconstitutional [and] will result in invasive regulation and excessive entanglement between church and state." Brent Walker, Executive Director, Baptist Joint Committee. 2

bullet"Our government must serve as a spawning ground for social entrepreneurs, many of whom have heard the call to help a neighbor in need through their religion. We ought to welcome faith-based programs into our society, not fear them." President George W. Bush 3
bullet"Republicans would like for the church to take over everything so that the government doesn't have to deal with any problems." Michelle Colbert said, while holding a sign saying "Separation of Church and State Is Still a Good Idea" 3

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Overview:

"Charitable choice" or "compassionate conservatism" programs allow tax money to flow from governments to religious groups to fund social service program. Historically, such funds have been primarily directed to secular non-profit organizations. 4

Charitable choice arrangements involve a delicate balance among:

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Making public funding attractive to religious organizations.

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Not invading the integrity of participating religious groups.

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Not invading the religious freedom and sensitivity of the persons served.

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Preserving the principle of separation of church and state as required by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

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Making duplicate sets of social programs available in every community - one religious based and one secular, in spite of the inefficiency that this generates.

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Making public funding available to all religions (Christians, Muslims, Jews, Wiccans...) without discriminating among the various faiths.

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Avoiding triggering local religious wars, as some faith groups are funded while others are refused financial support.

This is a balance that may be difficult or even impossible to attain.

Supporters feel that charitable choice is:

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An effective way to make use of existing religious facilities to reach certain disadvantaged populations that are otherwise difficult to serve.

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An cost-effective way to provide help to the needy. Some social problems, like drug addiction, may be more effectively overcome with a spiritual or religious approach.

Some religious conservatives, and most religious liberals and secularists are opposed to charitable choice. Their motives differ. Some conservative Christians fear government interference and control; some religious liberals and secularists fear that the coupling of church and state could lead to serious social problems. They are concerned that:

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The wall of separation between church and state will be seriously breeched. Lack of such separation has proven disastrous for human rights in many countries. This is particularly true with those countries which, like the U.S. have a high degree of religious commitment. Integration of religion and government has led to marginalization of groups within society, civil disturbances. The situation in some countries has involved mass crimes against humanity and even genocides.

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Government aid to churches will result in a degree of government control of churches. Long term, this will damage the church's spiritual health and sap their strength. Michael Sandel, professor of government at Harvard University commented "The worry is will this undermine the independence of religious communities in performing their role in thinking critically," He mentioned that churches have historically played a critical role in pressuring the government for social changes, "from abolition to the civil rights movement to the anti-war protests." 2

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Some churches may manipulate members of the public by withholding benefits unless they join the church or adopt church beliefs.

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Some churches who practice racism, sexism, religious intolerance, or homophobia will accept government money to fund their programs. Then, when they hire staff for their programs, they will discriminate -- excluding persons on the basis of their faith, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, etc.

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The governments will consider certain favored religions to be valid, while rejecting the legitimacy of other faith groups. 

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Public opinion polls:

bulletA poll released in late 2000-SEP by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life asked one charitable choice question in two ways, and received different responses:
bullet54% favored "giving government funding to religious organizations so they can provide social services."
bullet67% favored "allowing religious organizations to apply, along with other organizations, for government funding to provide social services." 5
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Commenting at a panel of religious leaders sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life on 2001-JAN-11, pollster Andrew Kohut commented: "The American public hasn't thought much about this. This is a relatively new thing. We know that in the area of religion in public life, the public responds favorably to the idea of religion being involved in the solution of national problems. But how favorably depends on what's being emphasized." 

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Public Agenda conducted a public opinion poll during 2000-NOV. They found that American adults are seriously divided: 
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44% feel that government funding of religious groups is a good idea, even if their programs promote religious messages.

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31% feel that the concept always is a bad idea

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23% approve of government funding, but only if the churches avoid religious messages.

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A survey funded by PBS in 2001-JAN showed that 62% of adult Americans favor charitable choice. 6

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Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released results of a second survey on 2001-APR which revealed that only 18% of Americans favor charitable choice programs if religious groups could discriminate on the basis of religion in hiring.  The poll found that the public had an "important concern" that:
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Welfare recipients "might be forced to take part in religious practices" (60%)

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The "government might get too involved in what religious organizations do" 68%.

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The programs may interfere with separation of church and state (52%).

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They may fail to meet standards (47%).

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Increase religious divisions in the country (48%).

On a positive note, the poll found four "important reasons to favor" the idea:
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Religious groups can do a better job because religion changes lives (62%).

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Religious providers are more caring (72%).

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Religious providers are more efficient (60%).

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People who need services "should have a variety of options" (77%). 7

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References:

  1. Charles Haynes, "Charitable choice needs devil's advocate," First Amendment Center, 2000-FEB-06, at: http://www.freedomforum.org/religion/haynes/
  2. Will Lester, "Bush administration religion initiatives raise questions," Associated Press, 2001-JAN-10.
  3. Maria Newman, "Bush visit sets off debate about religion and state," New York Times, 2001-MAR-15, at: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/03/15/politics/
  4. Marvin Olasky, George W. Bush, "Compassionate Conservativism: What it is, what it does and how it can transform America," Free Press (2000). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  5. Charles Haynes, "Voters favor equal treatment for religious charities addressing social needs," Freedom Forum, at: http://www.freedomforum.org/religion/haynes/2000/ 
  6. Described on the PBS program "All things considered" for 2001-FEB-04.
  7. Dennis R. Hoover, "The Perils of Polling," Religion in the News, 2001-Summer, at: http://www.trincoll.edu/
  8. http://www.frc.org/get.cfm?i=LG03I08 2003-SEP-02

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Copyright © 2000, 2001 & 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-DEC-23
Latest update: 2004-JUL-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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