Welfare Reform & Faith-Based Organizations

By Derek Davis; Barry Hankins | Go to book overview

9
Right Motive, Wrong Method: Thoughts on the Constitutionality of Charitable Choice

DEREK DAVIS

O n 22 August 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law the controversial welfare reform bill, radically altering the current welfare system. The legislation, titled The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 ("the Act"),1 contains a new scheme for carrying out assistance to the economically disadvantaged by allocating to each state block grants to be used by the state to construct and carry out its own welfare programs, and by enacting system-wide requirements that individual recipients obtain employment or lose benefits. While this basic scheme has many salient features, it also raises serious Establishment Clause questions by allowing state governments to contract with private charitable organizations, including churches and other religious institutions, to administer the new system. The Act is a bold challenge to prevailing U.S. Supreme Court interpretations of the Establishment Clause which place considerable restrictions on government assistance to churches and other pervasively sectarian organizations. These restrictions have traditionally been imposed to preserve the integrity and autonomy of religious institutions, keeping them free from the government regulation which would inevitably accompany government funding. The Act substantially ignores this commitment, however, and operates under the premise that houses of worship and other pervasively

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