Charitable Choice

Should houses of worship and other religious organizations increase their efforts to assist people moving from welfare to work? Absolutely. Should they do so by following the model established by the charitable choice provision of the welfare reform law? Absolutely not. Charitable choice is unconstitutional, unwise, and unnecessary.

Unconstitutional. Charitable choice ignores important legal distinctions that protect religion. For many years, groups that have ties to religious bodies, but are not pervasively sectarian (such as Catholic Charities and Lutheran Services in America), have received government money to perform secular social services, provided that they do not proselytize or discriminate on the basis of religion in hiring.

Courts generally have refused, however, to permit the government to subsidize pervasively sectarian entities, such as a church or a drug rehabilitation group that relies on acceptance of the gospel. Why? The Constitution recognizes that individual citizens, not the government, should choose whether their money supports the missions of Methodists, Mormons, Baptists, or Buddhists.

It doesn’t solve the constitutional problem to restrict the use of tax money for secular purposes. In pervasively sectarian ministries, it is almost impossible and always unwise for government to try to separate sacred from secular. When government attempts to do so, it becomes excessively entangled with the ministry, which is itself unconstitutional. Charitable choice attempts to obliterate the legal distinction between religiously affiliated and pervasively sectarian institutions, allowing both to receive tax funds.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1998
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