Well, the Senate last week almost took up the issue of equal opportunity for faith-based services. On the floor for debate was reauthorization of the 1996 welfare reform law—the first law to include Charitable Choice language. Reauthorization is long overdue, but disputes over child-care funding and toughening the work requirement had stymied Senate action. The debate finally started last week, and additional child care money was added. Then the process collapsed in a dispute over loading the bill with a minimum-wage measure. Welfare reauthorization is back off the Senate agenda, it appears, at least until the end of June, when the law's current extension ends.
So what about Charitable Choice? In fact, it doesn't need to be reauthorized: it is now part of welfare's legal framework. But supporters and opponents were poised to act. Supporters like Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) want to expand Charitable Choice to cover the Social Services Block Grant program, to ensure that faith-based groups have full opportunity to compete for those funds.
Opponents wanted to weaken Charitable Choice through the reauthorization process. There's still the view out there that the concept violates the Constitution. In fact, it is an equal opportunity measure, not a theocratic idea. It tells officials to make sure government funds go to the best providers, whether secular or religious. It bolsters legal protections for the religious character of faith-based providers, while protecting the religious liberty of beneficiaries. It even requires states to provide an alternative for anyone who doesn't want service from a faith-based provider. And it requires government money to be spent on services and not be diverted to pay for evangelism, a synagogue's ...1
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