Public Policy and Civil Society
When social scientists write about the relationship between public policy and civil society, they usually emphasize how civil society can shape public policy. A vibrant civil society in which citizens trust one another and are interested in the good of their communities is one in which people can be mobilized to shape public policy. They learn civic skills in their churches and social clubs, get out to vote, and write letters to their elected officials about issues they care about. It is less common for social scientists to ask questions about how public policy shapes civil society. Yet we know it does. In the extreme case, repressive policies by totalitarian leaders seriously suppress the activities of voluntary associations and thus the vitality of civil society. In less extreme situations such as in democracies, public policy may make it harder or easier for civic groups to speak freely (minority religious groups champion First Amendment freedoms for this reason). Public policies can threaten civic groups enough that they become more politically active (for instance, opponents of abortion became more active after the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade). The hope of receiving government funding or of legislation making it easier to do business is also a “carrot” that public officials can use to mobilize certain constituencies within civil society.
In this concluding chapter, I want to consider how the debate about faith-based social services has influenced—and may continue to influence—civil society in the United States. It would appear that Charitable Choice and the subsequent faith-based initiatives generated support from some constituencies and opposition from others. If public debate mobilizes support or opposition, we might say that civil society is better for it. Whether they like or dislike the policies, citizens are paying attention. They may be angry enough to voice their opposition or eager enough to