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Charitable Choice

by Stanley W. Carlson-Thies 07-01-1998
Opportunity to Serve

The charitable choice provision of the 1996 federal welfare reform law makes Christian ministries and other faith-based organizations eligible for government funds to provide welfare services, without requiring them to form separate corporations or remove religious content from the services they offer. We asked two experts on charitable choice to explore the issues of church-state relations raised by the provision.
—The Editors

Cooperation between government and religious organizations to serve the needy is not new. But previous federal rules for such cooperation were often so restrictive, uncertain, or arbitrary that many Christian ministries rejected federal dollars for fear of losing their spiritual mission. The charitable choice rules for federal welfare funds are designed specifically to address this fear by protecting the religious integrity of participating faith-based organizations.

Charitable choice is built on four principles. It

  • encourages state and local governments to use contracts or voucher arrangements to obtain services for welfare families from non-governmental organizations;
  • requires the governments not to exclude faith-based organizations from competing for funds because they are religious or too religious;
  • obligates the governments to respect the religious integrity of organizations that accept government funds to provide welfare services;
  • protects the right of the needy to receive help without religious coercion.

The charitable choice provision is a set of conditions on how the federal welfare block grant that each state receives can be used, not a separate fund designated for churches.