Religious Discrimination Slowly Ending

The American Enterprise, March 1999 | Go to article overview

Religious Discrimination Slowly Ending


Faith-based groups are still trying to understand the new "charitable choice" provisions of the 1996 welfare reform bill. To help them, the American Enterprise Institute and the Center for Public Justice held a conference on January 14, on what faith-based groups may and may not do under the new welfare rules.

Stephen Monsma, a government professor at Pepperdine University, observed that the Supreme Court has adopted two rules about government aid to religious groups. The old rule, used by the Court in the 1960s and '70s, stated that there should be no government aid to religion or to "persuasively sectarian" groups. This rule came about as a result of parochial schools trying, and failing, to obtain government funds to pay for their secular classes (such as math).

Under these sometimes contradictory rules, Monsma observed, the Court declared that governments could not directly support religious elementary and secondary schools, but the government may fund Catholic and Protestant colleges, because in the Court's eyes most of them are not religious. Actually, the 90 members of the Association of Christian Colleges, for example, have all sorts of religious aspects, including requirements that faculty members be Bible-believing Christians. Yet these schools receive work-study and other government aid, Monsma noted.

Stanley Carson-Thies of the Center for Public Justice then explained that the charitable choice law which Congress passed as part of welfare reform specifically requires government to be neutral toward religion. Its rules stipulate that states disbursing federal welfare money to charities may not discriminate between faith-based groups and secular ones, and bureaucrats can't require faith-based groups to hide religious elements in order to receive tax dollars. On the other hand, faith-based groups who receive tax dollars can't require welfare recipients to attend religious services. …

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