NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Charitable Choice" Often Shunned By Religious Groups

August 24, 1999

In 1996, Congress approved a plan called "charitable choice" as part of its welfare overhaul. Under the program, the U.S. gives funds to religious groups to use to combat poverty and other social ills.

Critics contend that it threatens to blur the line between church and state. And many religious groups -- apparently reluctant to become enmeshed in government rules and bureaucracy -- aren't rushing to the government trough.

  • Nobody knows how many groups are participating in charitable choice -- or how much public money is being spent -- because the funds are doled out by state and local governments.
  • While national conservative religious groups were among the strongest proponents of charitable choice, at the local level conservative congregations seem the least interested among all religious groups.
  • In a 1998 survey of 1,236 religious congregations, Mark Chaves of the University of Arizona found that only 24 percent of those who described themselves as theologically and politically conservative said they would be interested in joining the program -- but 47 percent of self-described liberal or middle-of-the-road groups were interested.
  • Some conservative groups fear that accepting federal funds and the government rules that go with them could lead to a slide toward secularism.

"The natural drift of government involvement and government funding is to become more and more like your secular government host," explains Joseph Laconte, an expert on charitable choice at the Heritage Foundation. "There is a deep, abiding and rational suspicion that government can't keep its mitts off these groups," he adds.

Source: Robert S. Greenberger, "'Charitable Choice,' Tests Line Between Church, State," Wall Street Journal, August 24, 1999.


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