The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
Charitable Choice and The Faith-Based Initiative
refers to programs through which the government to gives taxpayer dollars to religious organizations to provide public health or social services. Charitable choice has become one of the key struggles in church/state activities. Advocates of church-state separation have nine major concerns with charitable choice:
Although we oppose any program which would funnel taxpayer money to religious organizations, we are supportive of non-monetary faith-based initiative programs with services such as sharing of best practices amongst organizations, technical assistance, and expedited creation of 501c3 organizations.
Perhaps the most controversial issue within charitable choice is whether government-funded faith-based organizations should be allowed to employ people of their own faith only (i.e. to refuse to consider applications of people of other faiths). Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, employers are not allowed to discriminate in whom they hire based on religion; however, there is an exemption for religious organizations. This exemption recognizes, for example, that in order to fulfill its mission, a synagogue may find it necessary to hire Jews. However, the Civil Rights Act does not specify whether the Title VII exemption allowing religious organizations to hire members of their own religion still applies if the organization accepts government funding. The question of whether a government-funded faith-based organization retains the Title VII exemption raises a wrenching tension between two principles: the religious autonomy guaranteed by the First Amendment and the fundamental notion that government money should not be used to discriminate.
On February 5, 2009, President Obama signed an executive order establishing the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and creating an Advisory Council of leaders of faith communities, heads of charitable organizations, and legal scholars, including RAC director and counsel Rabbi David Saperstein.
Though the issue of hiring discrimination has yet to be resolved, President Obama announced his intent to adhere to constitutional standards and evaluate this issue with the help of the Advisory Council, Attorney General, and White House Counsel. During the campaign, then-Senator Obama made clear he is attuned to concerns for the separation of church and state. Speaking in July 2008 in Zainesville, OH, he said "If you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help, and you can’t discriminate against them – or against the people you hire – on the basis of their religion."
Church Participation in Political Campaigns
Federal tax law has been clear for decades: houses of worship, like other 501(c)(3) organizations, cannot legally engage in partisan politicking and retain their tax-exempt status while receiving tax deductible contributions. Religious leaders have an absolute right and obligation to use their pulpit to address the moral and political issues of the day. The only things tax-exempt houses of worship may not do are endorse or oppose candidates and use their tax-exempt donations to contribute to partisan campaigns. Current law limits groups from being both tax-exempt ministries and partisan political outfits. This simple and unambiguous provision of federal law has served as a valuable safeguard for the integrity of both religious institutions and the political process.
Students have the right to pray in public schools, but a government role in organizing and conducting prayer is impermissible. Private voluntary prayer is not only permissible, it is constitutionally protected. Such individual, voluntary prayer is different not in degree but in kind from officially selected and sanctioned prayers read over a loudspeaker on behalf of all students.
For more information, go to the RAC's School Prayer Issue Page.
School vouchers and tuition tax-credits (which allow money that otherwise would have gone to the state or federal treasury to be saved by parents to fund the education of children in private schools) are by no means a solution to the problems that currently face public education. In fact, both seriously damage public education by re-channeling vital public funds to the private arena. Furthermore, both threaten the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty by inducing indirect government funding of sectarian institutions.
For more information, go to the RAC's School Vouchers Issue Page.