Article

No Aid to Religion?: Charitable Choice and the First Amendment

Heidi Rolland Unruh and Ronald J. Sider

As government struggles to solve a confounding array of poverty-related social problems—deficient education, un- and underemployment, substance abuse, broken families, substandard housing, violent crime, inadequate health care, crumbling urban infrastructures—it has turned increasingly to the private sector, including a wide range of faith-based agencies. As described in Stephen Monsma’s When Sacred and Secular Mix, public funding for nonprofit organizations with a religious affiliation is surprisingly high. Of the faith-based child service agencies Monsma surveyed, 63 percent reported that more than 20 percent of their budget came from public funds.

Government’s unusual openness to cooperation with the private religious sector arises in part from public disenchantment with its programs, but also from an increasingly widespread view that the nation’s acute social problems have moral and spiritual roots. Acknowledging that social problems arise both from unjust socioeconomic structures and from misguided personal choices, scholars, journalists, politicians, and community activists are calling attention to the vital and unique role that religious institutions play in social restoration.