CHARITABLE CHOICE PROGRAMS
Quotations, overview, opinion polls
Topics in this essay:
"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
"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.
"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
"...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
"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
|"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|
|"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"
"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.
arrangements involve a delicate balance among:
Making public funding attractive to religious
Not invading the integrity of participating religious groups.
Not invading the religious freedom and sensitivity of
the persons served.
Preserving the principle of separation
of church and state as required by the First Amendment of the U.S.
Making duplicate sets of social programs available in
every community -
one religious based and one secular, in spite of the inefficiency that
Making public funding available to all religions
(Christians, Muslims, Jews, Wiccans...) without discriminating among
the various faiths.
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:
An effective way to make use of existing religious
facilities to reach certain disadvantaged populations that are
otherwise difficult to serve.
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:
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
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."
Some churches may manipulate members of the public by
withholding benefits unless they join the church or adopt church
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
persons on the basis of their faith, gender, marital status, sexual
The governments will consider certain favored religions to be
valid, while rejecting the legitimacy of other faith groups.
Public opinion polls:
|A 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:
|54% favored "giving government funding to religious
organizations so they can provide social services."|
|67% favored "allowing religious organizations to apply,
along with other organizations, for government funding to provide
social services." 5|
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."
conducted a public opinion poll during 2000-NOV. They found that American
adults are seriously divided:
44% feel that government funding of religious groups
is a good idea, even if their programs promote religious messages.
31% feel that the concept always is a bad idea
23% approve of government funding, but only if the
churches avoid religious messages.
A survey funded by PBS in 2001-JAN showed that 62% of
adult Americans favor charitable choice. 6
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:
Welfare recipients "might be forced to take part
in religious practices" (60%)
The "government might get too involved in what
religious organizations do" 68%.
The programs may interfere with separation of church
and state (52%).
They may fail to meet standards (47%).
Increase religious divisions in the country (48%).
On a positive note, the poll found four "important
reasons to favor" the idea:
Religious groups can do a better job because
religion changes lives (62%).
Religious providers are more caring (72%).
Religious providers are more efficient (60%).
People who need services "should have a variety
of options" (77%). 7
- Charles Haynes, "Charitable choice needs devil's advocate," First Amendment Center,
2000-FEB-06, at: http://www.freedomforum.org/religion/haynes/
- Will Lester, "Bush administration religion initiatives raise
questions," Associated Press, 2001-JAN-10.
- Maria Newman, "Bush visit sets off debate about religion and state,"
New York Times, 2001-MAR-15, at:
- 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
- Charles Haynes, "Voters favor equal treatment for religious
charities addressing social needs," Freedom Forum, at: http://www.freedomforum.org/religion/haynes/2000/
- Described on the PBS program "All things considered" for
- Dennis R. Hoover, "The Perils of Polling," Religion in the
News, 2001-Summer, at:
Copyright © 2000, 2001 & 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2000-DEC-23
Latest update: 2004-JUL-28
Author: B.A. Robinson