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Potential scenarios

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How charitable choice might be implemented:


Effective delivery of social programs: Programs organized by religious groups may prove to be an effective use of taxpayer funding. George W. Bush has referred to Pastor Freddie Garcia, a recovered drug addict who founded Victory Fellowship in San Antonio, TX.  His group has helped thousands of drug addicts to trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, to become saved, and to lead clean lives. Apparently, their success rate and cost per recovered addict compare very favorably with most secular treatment programs. However, the ACLU has suggested that faith-based programs may be counter-productive. They cite a case in Texas where a church-based drug rehabilitation program's  techniques involved classifying drug addiction as a sin, and offering prayer and Bible reading as treatment. Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU's Washington National Office said: "Priests, ministers and rabbis are the best people to offer spiritual guidance that can be helpful to people in need. But many individuals faced with drug addiction, mental illness and other problems need more than  spiritual advice. They need people who are trained and licensed to address their specific physical and psychological needs." 1


Religious discrimination in hiring: Rep. Mark Souder, (R-IA) introduced an amendment to the House's Homeownership and Economic Development Act of 2000 which would allow charitable choice. He was asked a hypothetical question by Chet Edwards, (D-TX). 2 What if federal money were funneled to sectarian institutions that have had a history of religious bigotry, racial bigotry and discrimination, like Bob Jones University, a private Fundamentalist Christian university in South Carolina. The founder and all of the presidents of that university have issued disparaging statements about Roman Catholicism. Until recently, the university had forbidden interracial dating among their students. Edwards postulated the startup of a charitable choice program at a church affiliated with Bob Jones University. He asked: "Next year, would a church associated with Bob Jones University be able to put out a sign saying, using your tax dollars, no Catholics need apply for a job?" According to Souder, the services provided by churches cannot involve proselytizing. The church could not require the people that it serves "to go to a biblical study, [or] to show up at church, because there cannot be discrimination against applicants." The act prohibits funds being used for worship, religious instruction or any other promotion of religion. But, concerning churches discriminating in hiring personnel to staff government-funded programs, Souder agreed that "that could happen.

Religion News Service reported in 2001-MAY that Potter's House, a 26,000 member Protestant church in Dallas TX is advertising ten jobs on their web site. Bishop T.D. Jakes said that they reserve the right to hire like-minded believers. He said: "We hire people who reflect our views and concerns. What makes us a faith-based entity is our morals and values." That means that gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and non-Christians probably need not apply. Catholics and liberal Christians, Mormons, etc. probably would not be hired either. 3

According to Religion News Service, "More than 850 religious figures, calling themselves the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination, sent President Bush and members of Congress a letter urging them to abandon 'charitable choice' legislation. Gay and lesbian advocacy organizations say they will highlight the issue, while church-state separation groups contend that they've found an argument to derail the president's plans. 'This legislation is intended to permit some fundamentalist organization to put a sign on its door saying, "No Jews need apply," ' said Barry Lynn, director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. 3


Other forms of discrimination in hiring: Churches are generally not required to meet civil rights standards that are compulsory for all other groups -- e.g. government, educational and private organizations. "Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal for any employer to discriminate on the basis of an individuals 'race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.;  The statute provides a special exemption, however, for religious groups to be selective in favor of hiring members of their faith, so long as it is connected with self-funded religious activities." Many states also have civil rights legislation for employers within their state. So do some municipalities. They also generally have some exemptions for religious organizations.

The faith-based House of Representatives Bill H.R. 7 would, for the first time, allow religious groups to be exempt from local and state civil rights laws. They could accept Federal government money raised from all taxpayers, and then discriminate on the basis of gender, marital status, sexual orientation, as well as religion and church membership.  Some people feel that it is profoundly unethical to take money raised from all citizens, and then use it in a manner that discriminates against those same people. The ACLU suggested two possible scenarios:

a Catholic church receiving public funds for literacy programs could fire a teacher for becoming pregnant outside of marriage.


an Orthodox Jewish synagogue that operated a food bank could refuse to hire non-Jews or female administrators. 1


Government discrimination among religions: The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that governments must not show favoritism among religions, or between religion and secular groups. Thus, if the Federal Government funds an Evangelical Christian drug rehabilitation group in a given locality, it will have to fund a similar groups organized by liberal Christians, by Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, other Neopagans, etc. This will lead to an administrative nightmare, and gross inefficiency.  

Chet Edwards (D-TX) asked Mark Mark Souder (R-IA) in the Senate whether Wiccans could be eligible for charitable-choice funds. Wiccans are Neopagans who follow a religious faith that is partly based on ancient Celtic beliefs, holy days, symbols and practices. They promote a concern for the environment and non-discrimination on the basis of race, gender and sexual orientation. Souder, apparently referring to George W. Bush's public statements against Wiccans' religious rights during his presidential campaign, said that "It is unlikely under President Bush that the witches would get funding." Edwards replied: "The gentleman (Souder) has made my point better than I could make it. He is saying under the Bush administration, they would pick out which religious organizations [would qualify] for federal tax dollars and which would not. That is exactly what Mr. Madison and Mr. Jefferson did not want when they [propounded] the Bill of Rights. They did not want politicians and government officials deciding which religious organization receives official government approval...I would suggest that providing federal tax dollars to let group discrimination based on religion (occur) is a reason to oppose this amendment." 2 Charitable-choice legislation would force government officials to decide which religions were to be considered valid and which were not. They would be forced to directly violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.


Government interference with religious institutions: Churches would have to keep separate accounting systems for their charitable choice programs. Otherwise, the government might ask to inspect all of its financial transactions. Churches would have to file annual compliance reports with the government(s), conduct self-evaluation studies, permit government inspections, etc. They would be continuously exposed to lawsuits by unhappy clients. Over time, the churches may lose their moral influence with the government; groups tend to be reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them.

bulletPotential for massive numbers of lawsuits, and inter-faith conflict or violence: In a given municipality, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Scientology and Christian Science religious communities may all compete for scarce government funding. If only one faith group is ultimately successful, inter-faith relations might be seriously damaged. Charles Henderson wrote that religious groups "...are themselves deeply divided over basic questions about what true 'faith' is. Were large amounts of tax payer money made available to such organizations, expect a stampede of religious groups seeking government help, and armies of lawyers rushing into battle demanding to know why some groups received funding while others did not. The courts across the land will be...crowded with suits and counter suits...Religious passions are the stuff that wars are made of. The founders of our republic understood this very well. That is one of the reasons they erected the wall that was designed to separate religious passion from the more rational considerations they believed necessary for good government. The founders got it right. Religious passions are important; they are powerful; they are potentially dangerous. Tear down that carefully crafted barrier between church and state, and you invite chaos. Should President Bush continue upon the course he has set for himself, he may well find his administration swallowed up in a storm of controversy which he did not anticipate and cannot control." 4
bulletDiscriminatory provision of services: According to an ACLU press release: "Under the Bush initiative, there are no restrictions on how religious organizations incorporate their beliefs in the delivery of social services. These groups would be allowed to decide who gets priority for services and what services are actually provided. The ACLU believes that the lack of protections could lead to discrimination against those who most need help. A Baptist church that is running a local housing program could, for example, [accept Federal funding, and] give preference to low-income people in their own congregation." 1 Persons seeking counseling could have religion forced upon them.

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  1. "ACLU Says Bush Initiative Represents Faith-Based Prescription for        Discrimination," American Civil Liberties Union press release, 2001-JAN-29
  2. Charles Haynes, "Charitable choice needs devil's advocate," First Amendment Center, 2000-FEB-6, at: http://www.freedomforum.org/religion/haynes/  
  3. Mark O'keefe, "Another trouble spot for charitable choice: Would groups have to employ non-believers?" Religion News Service, 2001-MAY-5. See: http://www.dallasnews.com/religion/
  4. Charles Henderson, "The president-elect sails into the storm: Bigger ships than his have succumbed to this one." 2001-JAN-9. At About.com, Christianity web. Henderson is the publisher of CrossCurrents magazine and author of "God and Science."

Copyright © 2000, 2001, and 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-DEC-23
Latest update: 2004-JUL-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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