Charitable choice

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Charitable Choice is "a little-known provision of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act which," according to Richard Gilbert, writing March 18, 2001, for the First Unitarian Church of Rochester, "ended welfare as we know it." [1]

Gilbert says that, "Attorney General, then Missouri Senator, John Ashcroft, attached it as an amendment to make it easier for religious groups to apply for federal human services funds, but in a new twist, they would not have to leave their religion at the door. While government has previously funded faith-based services, there have been strict safeguards against religious activities. No money for these services could be commingled with funds for religious purposes.

"Charitable Choice changes all that: proselytizing with government money is still forbidden, but groups can display religious symbols, use theological language, and utilize religious criteria in hiring and firing employees. Funds flow directly into the religious organization's budget. Though [since 1996] it has been little used, President George W. Bush has made it a cornerstone of his domestic program. He intends to aid faith-based groups in 'performing their commonplace miracles of renewal....In every instance when my administration sees a responsibility to help people, we will look first to faith-based institutions, to charities and to community groups that have shown their ability to save and change lives.'

"Charitable Choice," Gilbert says, "has been institutionalized through a White House agency for Faith-based and Community Initiatives to be headed by John J. DiIulio Jr., a Roman Catholic and a University of Pennsylvania professor. Stephen Goldsmith, a Conservative Jew and former mayor of Indianapolis, will chair the advisory board." [2]


According to the article "Opportunity to Serve" by Stanley Carlson-Thies: [3]

"Cooperation between government and religious organizations to serve the needy is not new. But previous federal rules for such cooperation were often so restrictive, uncertain, or arbitrary that many Christian ministries rejected federal dollars for fear of losing their spiritual mission. The charitable choice rules for federal welfare funds are designed specifically to address this fear by protecting the religious integrity of participating faith-based organizations.

"Charitable choice is built on four principles. It

  • encourages state and local governments to use contracts or voucher arrangements to obtain services for welfare families from non-governmental organizations;
  • requires the governments not to exclude faith-based organizations from competing for funds because they are religious or too religious;
  • obligates the governments to respect the religious integrity of organizations that accept government funds to provide welfare services;
  • protects the right of the needy to receive help without religious coercion.

"The charitable choice provision is a set of conditions on how the federal welfare block grant that each state receives can be used, not a separate fund designated for churches.

  • Under charitable choice, explicitly religious ministries and even churches without separate 501(c)(3) structures are eligible to compete for welfare contracts or to redeem vouchers to provide welfare services. Spiritual principles and language may be used in working with clients. Ministries may keep their religious standards for hiring and disciplining staff. Bibles and religious symbols need not be hidden. Fiscal audits can be limited by keeping a separate account to receive and disburse the welfare funds.
  • When services are funded by government contract, then the money may not be used for worship, doctrinal instruction, or evangelism, making it clear that the government is not taking the side of any particular faith. By contrast, if a client brings a voucher to pay for a service, there is no similar religious restriction because it is the client who chooses the provider.

"Charitable choice further protects clients by requiring ministries to serve them without discrimination and to allow them to sit out any religious activities that offend them. Most important, a client who objects to a religious provider has the right to be served by a different agency."


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