Under Governor Bush's leadership, Texas was more aggressive than
any other state in opening the door to faith-based organizations as
allowed by the 1996 welfare reform act, enlisting them to help
welfare recipients make the transition to the workforce.
As president, Mr. Bush plans to expand this "charitable choice"
partnership to virtually all domestic federal programs. His
proposals to "rally the armies of compassion" have stirred broad
and contentious debate, striking a responsive chord with many
Americans but striking a nerve with many others.
Two examples from the Texas experience illustrate why:
Lutheran Services of the South launched a well-received program
called Coaching for Successs, in which women of faith act as
mentors for single welfare mothers as they deal with the challenges
confronting them in their search for work. With this help, surveys
show, 80 percent of the clients have gained in self-confidence, and
more than 60 percent are still employed or have improved their
On the other hand, Jobs Partnership of Washington County, a
consortium of churches and businesses, offered a course on
requirements for success in the workplace (partially funded by the
state) that has spurred a lawsuit on constitutional issues. With
the Bible as a text, one class each week was devoted to biblical
principles applicable to the workplace, and the second to their
practical application. In a state survey, one-third of all
participants said that they felt pressured to change their
Many Americans welcome the funding of religious groups as
offering a more holistic and effective approach to meeting people's
needs, while many others see a threat to religious freedoms and a
serious break with constitutional principles.
Certain aspects of charitable choice, insists Marc Stern, a
lawyer with American Jewish Congress, are "a wholesale breach of
the separation of church and state."
The initiative raises such a thicket of issues that even
Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson, a strong Bush supporter,
mused that the program "could be a real Pandora's box."
The White House expected opposition from liberal and religious-
liberty groups, but has been stunned by a rising chorus of
reservations voiced by conservatives. The contention has been so
great the White House has agreed with key senators to split the
proposal in two, introducing a bill on tax changes and delaying the
component based on charitable choice for several months to allow
for fine-tuning, according to The Washington Post.
The recommended changes to the tax system to boost private giving
are the least contentious portion of the president's proposals (see
box, right) and have drawn broad backing. They would allow the 80
million Americans who are non-itemizers to deduct contributions,
permit withdrawals without penalty from IRA accounts for that
purpose, and raise the cap on corporate deductions from 10 to 15
percent of taxable income.
But the debate now percolating across the country highlights
several serious concerns about charitable choice, including:
* The funding of "pervasively religious" groups, and worries that
this could result in taxpayer funding of a religious message.
* The potential for discrimination against faiths in the funding
process (or, from another perspective, funding of controversial,
* Support for discrimination in hiring, by permitting groups to
select only those of their own faith; possibly cracking open the
door to other forms of discrimination.
* Dangers to religious institutions from entanglement with
* Concerns that unless overall funding is increased, the plan
simply means shifting dollars from some groups to others, rather
than addressing unmet needs. …