The Religious Liberties Practice Group is pleased to announce a
one-day conference, to be held in Indianapolis, on the constitutionality,
practicality, and advisability of "charitable choice"
programs and proposals. The conference should prove as stimulating
as it is timely.
Several of the leading presidential candidates including
Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore have emphasized
the role that faith-based organizations should play in providing
social services and assistance to the poor. Senators Dan Coats,
Spencer Abraham, and John Ashcroft to name just a few
have been instrumental at the federal level in enacting legislation
that permits government to tap into the resources and experience
of religious institutions in its efforts to meet societal needs.
The 1996 Welfare Reform Act, for instance, included "charitable
choice" provisions, as did Senator Ashcroft's 1998 amendment
to the Community Block Grant Program. And Governor Bush in 1996
created a "Task Force on Faith-Based Programs" in Texas,
in an effort to encourage the success of groups like Teen Challenge
(a Christian drug rehabilitation program) and Chuck Colson's prison
At the heart of the charitable choice proposal is the insight that
the First Amendment does not require the government, when enlisting
the assistance of social service providers from the independent
sector and providing them with suitable funding, to discriminate
on the basis of religion. Moreover, because faith-based providers
are concerned that any involvement with government will necessarily
compromise their autonomy, the act goes on shield these providers
from governmental interference with their essential religious character.
Finally, the act protects the religious free-exercise rights of
the ultimate beneficiaries at the provider of their choice.