NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Charitable Choice, or Government Funding

September 17, 2001

President Bush's legislative agenda of "Charitable Choice" did not go far enough, says Fr. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. Instead of emphasizing the role of private support and religious motivation in charity, it proposed that religiously oriented private charities receive direct financial support from the public purse.

Religious groups themselves began to raise questions about the wisdom of receiving government money and obeying the strictures that are necessarily attached to it.

According to a survey commissioned by World Magazine of 96 members of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions:

  • Three out of five organizations would reject government money even if offered.
  • While 78 percent favored tax credits to encourage more private donations, only 4 percent said they would favor government subsidies to religious organizations.
  • If legislation requires that private organizations segment their programs into religious and non-religious, 81 percent said they would refuse to participate.

Among the reasons is that government money changes the fundraising focus of the organization and restricts the kind of service that a religious group can provide.

For many years, religious organizations have worked to have enacted in law severe restrictions on the state in its dealings with religious institutions. Nine states have enacted religious protection measures and courts in six other states have issued rulings that effect the same result. Many other states have long-standing traditions of permitting religious schools and charities as much freedom in their operation as possible. Nothing should be done that would endanger this independence.

While the Bush administration deserves praise for having opened the debate that has given recognition to private religious charity, policy proposals need to more carefully distinguish between the much-needed freedom to support and work for these organizations and the dangers of direct government support.

Source: Fr. Robert A. Sirico (Acton Institute), "Right Idea, Wrong Method," NCPA Brief Analysis No. 372, September 17, 2001, National Center for Policy Analysis.


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