E stablished in 1957, the J. M. Dawson Institute of Church- State Studies at Baylor University has endeavored to hold either a lectureship or major symposium every year on some important issue in the area of church-state relations or the interaction of religion and politics. In April 1998, the institute sponsored a symposium entitled "Welfare Reform and the Churches." The essays in this volume are the products of that meeting. As readers of the book will notice, there was a serious effort to balance the symposium program between those who support the "Charitable Choice" provision of the 1996 welfare reform law and those who oppose it.1 Such balance is in keeping with the institute's scholarly objective to explore widely the implications of religious liberty and church-state separation.
There is no need here to go into depth as to everything Charitable Choice does or to discuss how the law came into being. That is the topic of Julie Segal's essay. Suffice it to say up front that Charitable Choice will make faith-based social service entities eligible for federal block-grant funds wherever private secular social service agencies are eligible. Before the 1996 welfare law, only those religiously affiliated agencies that were not "pervasively sectarian" were eligible for government funding. The Charitable Choice provision of the new law renders the "pervasively sectarian" evaluation moot, stating explicitly that faith-based social service agencies can contract with government regardless of how sectarian the agencies are. The major stipulation is that government funds cannot be used directly for sectarian worship, instruction, or proselytization.
All the authors of this volume agree that Charitable Choice substantially alters the church-state landscape. They disagree over whether the change is likely to be beneficial or detrimental