NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Grants To Charities: Government Programs In A Clerical Collar?

April 3, 2001

President George W. Bush wants to make billions of dollars in federal grants available to faith-based charities to perform social services.

Such a prospect has left institutions ranging from think tanks to the charities themselves distinctly nervous. Wouldn't that, they ask, alter the fundamental nature of charities themselves?

In a recent briefing paper, "Corrupting Charity: Why Government Should Not Fund Faith-Based Charities," Michael Tanner of the libertarian Cato Institute examines the issues and raises a number of objections to the proposal:

  • Mixing government and charity would undermine the constitutional separation of church and state, he warns.
  • Charities that accept government funds could find themselves overwhelmed with paperwork and subject to a host of federal regulations -- necessitating the transfer of scarce resources from charitable activities to bureaucratic functions.
  • As they become increasingly dependent on government money, faith-based charities could find their mission shifting, their religious character lost and the very strengths that made them so successful destroyed.
  • Not only would the whole concept of charity be corrupted, the potential for government meddling would be tremendous.

Tanner observes that charitable giving is at a record high today. So there is no need to step in to mitigate some financial "crisis."

Then, again, if government started lavishing public funds on charities, where would that leave the incentive for private individuals to donate?

Source: Michael Tanner, "Corrupting Charity: Why Government Should Not Fund Faith-Based Charities," Briefing Paper No. 62, March 22, 2001, Cato Institute, 1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001,(202) 842-0200.

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