AMONG ALL THE ASSUMPTIONS AND CLAIMS MADE BY PROPONENTS OF CHARITABLE Choice laws and President George W. Bush’s Faith-Based Initiative, the most insistent—and arguably the most important—was the re- peated assertion that faith-based organizations (FBOs) were “more effective” than secular providers. Members of Congress routinely intoned that “everyone knows” religious organizations achieve bet- ter results. The president frequently alluded to the importance of what he called “the faith factor,” and on more than one occasion he insisted that “faith works.”
There was an essential incoherence to many of these claims that bothered many scholars; if “faith” is indeed the essential element in effective service delivery, Charitable Choice efforts will meet with an insurmountable constitutional barrier. As we have noted several times in previous chapters, the First Amendment does not prevent government from purchasing secular services from religious ven- dors, but it most definitely does forbid the exchange of tax dollars for religious goods and services. If FBOs produce better results be- cause their own faith or mission somehow enhances their ability to provide effective services, there is no constitutional barrier to partnerships between these organizations and government agen- cies—but there is also no reason to believe that this is the case, and there was none in 1996 when Section 104 of the Personal Respon- sibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 was first enacted.
The claim that FBOs achieve better results for clients raises a number of definitional issues, not least the question with which we started our study: What do we mean by “faith-based”? Are all religiously affiliated organizations more effective? If not, how do we know which ones? Are FBOs more effective at certain social