Safeguarding Religious Liberty in Charitable Choice and Faith-Based Initiatives

The Obama administration recently announced an expansion of government funding for so-called "faith-based initiatives," in which taxpayer dollars are doled out to sectarian religious organizations for the performance of social service programs.  This government funding raises legal and constitutional concerns that the administration has yet to address directly.  In February, the Center for Inquiry produced a position paper that called for an end to government funding of faith-based programs.  Because government funding is scheduled to continue, the Center for Inquiry further recommended the adoption and vigorous enforcement of specific minimum safeguards to protect church-state separation and religious liberty.

CFI performed a detailed historical study of federal funding for faith-based programs, extending from the rise of "charitable choice" legislation during the Clinton administration through the explosion of taxpayer funding for religious programs under George W. Bush's Faith Based and Community Initiative.  The position paper that resulted from this study expresses deep misgivings about government funding of sectarian religious programs.  CFI cited concerns that these programs may use taxpayer dollars to support or favor religious activities and beliefs; that government may give preference to particular religious organizations in doling out funds; and that under current standards, recipients of taxpayer funding for faith-based programs are allowed to engage in employment discrimination on the basis of religion.

CFI's position paper recommends that government funding of faith-based programs be eliminated entirely.  CFI's paper endorses a limited exception for truly secular social services programs, such as Catholic Charities, that have some affiliation with a religious institution but are provided by independent 501(c)(3) charities.  CFI maintains that such charities must conduct social service programs without religious content or materials and without engaging in religious discrimination.  (Catholic Charities is a non-profit corporation separate and distinct from the Catholic Church.)

CFI's paper further recommends that if taxpayer funding of faith-based programs continues, certain minimum safeguards should be implemented and enforced.  Specifically, CFI recommends that such programs should be barred from discriminating against both beneficiaries and employees on the basis of religion; that such programs should be monitored vigorously to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to fund religious worship, instruction, or proselytization; and that government must treat programs conducted by religious and secular organizations equally in granting funds, measuring performance, and monitoring for compliance.

CFI's position paper on charitable choice and faith based initiatives was commissioned by Toni Van Pelt, Government Affairs Director for CFI Office of Public Policy, and authored by Daniel Horowitz, J.D., and Ruth Mitchell, Ph.D.  Mr. Horowitz is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law.  He has worked in private practice and the government for 30 years, specializing in the field of federal income taxation.  While continuing in that practice part-time, he now also volunteers for CFI as well as other organizations.  Dr. Mitchell is a graduate of Oxford University; she received her Ph.D. from UCLA.  She is a writer, researcher, and analyst in CFI's Office of Public Policy in Washington, D.C.