Welfare Reform & Faith-Based Organizations

By Derek Davis; Barry Hankins | Go to book overview

8
Constitutional Questions About Charitable Choice

ALAN BROWNSTEIN

A merican society has never relied exclusively on government to provide important social services to the community. Private organizations, both religious and secular, are commonly engaged in a wide range of service activities that benefit the public. This has been true historically and it continues to be the case today despite the rise of the welfare state.1

The private provision of social services raises difficult constitutional questions, however, particularly when the services are offered by religious organizations. Religious institutions exist to further their own missions of faith, uniquely spiritual purposes that are divorced from the role of government. While religious and governmental entities often may find themselves following parallel paths in helping community members in need, they do so from fundamentally different perspectives. Religion is intrinsically involved in what people believe about ultimate concerns, and each religion is committed to the truth of its own vision. Religion cannot be neutral on matters of faith. Further, religion does not bifurcate spiritual and physical life. Religious institutions serve the body and the soul and recognize the dependence of the former on the latter.

Government, on the other hand, is constitutionally constrained from involving itself in the spiritual life of communities and individuals. From the vantage point of government, religions are respected but not favored belief systems, and each faith practiced in the United States is of equal worth. However helpful government may be in helping to meet

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