Debate 2: Should the Government Provide Financial Support for Religious Institutions That Offer Faith-Based Social Services
The following discussion examines the possible ramifications of Charitable Choice on the separation of church and state. Charitable Choice is a proposed government program in which secular organizations would receive federal funding for programs geared toward assisting the poor. Four prominent legal religious scholars engage in heated debate addressing the long-term effects of this program. They are: Nathan Diament, Director of the Institute for Public Affairs of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, Douglas Laycock, a leading constitutional scholar and professor at the University of Texas Law School, Barry Lynn, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and attorney affiliated with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional law professor at the University of California School of Law.
Many view Charitable Choice as a way to legitimize and fund activities that already occur in religious communities of all denominations. Churches and synagogues have long been responsible for a great deal of aid to impoverished communities. Through Charitable Choice the government will be able to fund a percentage of these activities as would a private organization. The argument against Charitable Choice stems from its interference with the doctrine of separation of church and state, a guiding principle of the United States Constitution. The government would compel religious organizations that accept public funds to open their books to audits, thereby encroaching into a sector of society it had previously left alone. Opponents of Charitable Choice find the innate evangelical aspects of religion deeply problematic, illustrating a scenario where such organizations would render services only to an individual who complied with the tenets of a particular faith.