Who Will Provide? The Changing Role of Religion in American Social Welfare

By Mary Jo Bane; Brent Coffin et al. | Go to book overview
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Choice or Commonality:
Welfare and Schooling
After the Welfare State

Martha Minow1

Mixing public and private cooperation while pursuing some limits on the partnerships involving religion could promote mutual aid but also preserve the distinct contributions each kind of entity makes to the needs of the poor, of children, and of the larger society.

IT IS PROBABLY INEVITABLE THAT SIMPLE SOLUTIONS to hard problems attract attention and support. Even when the simple solutions fail, they continue to frame debates about what to do next.

Simple solutions dominate two hot policy issues. For the public schools the solution is "choice." For the failure of public assistance, the solution is time limits to get people off of it--and direct those who temporarily need it to private support, notably through religious groups. For these and a variety of ailments in liberal secular society, the solution is more religion and less constitutional worry about separating church and state. Both come together in the idea of vouchers for schooling and welfare. State monies are to be distributed in the form of vouchers allowing individuals to select private providers that are likely to be religious. Such choices permit pluralism and competition. Yet they also risk shrinking the sense of "we" to whom anyone in the country feels connected or responsible.

The turn to vouchers paradoxically reflects both the triumph of the market as the preferred mode for social organization--and resistance to the market

A version of this article was presented as the Brainerd Currie Lecture, Duke Law School, Feb. 18, 1999 and appears at 49 Duke L. J. 493 ( 1999). I thank Dean Gamm for the invitation and members of the Duke Law School community for engaged questions and comments, as well as members of the Harvard Divinity School Seminar on Democratic Revival, Jenny Mansbridge, Ronald Dworkin, Frank Michelman, Tom Nagel, Avi Soifer, David Wilkins, David Wong, Larry Blum, Rick Weissbourd, and Larry Sager for valuable discussions and comments. Thanks to Andrew Varcoe, Catherine Claypoole, Nina Wang, and Jean Chang for research assistance, and to Laurie Corzett for help in producing the manuscript.


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Who Will Provide? The Changing Role of Religion in American Social Welfare


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