Introduction and Background:
A New Faith in Faith
SECTION 104 OF THE PERSONAL RESPONSI- BILITY AND WORK OPPORTUNITY RECON- ciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) was the first of a series of legisla- tive measures that are often collectively referred to as “Charitable Choice” laws. They were, and are, legislative efforts to encourage greater numbers of religious, or “faith-based,” organizations, in- cluding congregations, to bid on government contracts to provide social services to the needy. When George W. Bush was elected president in 2000, he announced that a Faith-Based Initiative ex- panding upon those legislative measures would be a centerpiece of his administration’s domestic policy. Both the Bush Faith-Based Initiative and the various pieces of legislation that preceded it have triggered a number of policy debates and generated significant po- litical opposition.
Although most critics of these initiatives have focused upon the First Amendment issues involved, Charitable Choice also raises a host of other equally thorny issues and implicates a number of other policy areas: the definition and design of social welfare programs; the practice of providing government services through third-party surrogates or intermediaries rather than through employees, and the management challenges attendant to such delivery mecha- nisms; methodological difficulties and resource constraints that complicate (or preclude) the evaluation of government program effectiveness generally, and social service delivery mechanisms par- ticularly; and—not incidentally—stormy political, religious, and ideological debates over the causes of, and appropriate remedies for, poverty in America. Even more than most policy choices, this new outreach to religious social service providers simply cannot be