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Charitable Choice: The Facts

"Charitable Choice" is the general name for several laws that President Clinton signed into law during the period of 1996-2000. These laws were designed to give people in need choices among the charities offering them services. The Charitable Choice laws apply to four Federal programs: Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) programs (both overseen by the Administration for Children and Families at the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)); programs for substance abuse and mental health (overseen by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at HHS); and the Welfare-to-Work program (overseen by the Department of Labor).

What are the key points of the Charitable Choice laws?

These laws clarify both the rights and the responsibilities of faith-based organizations that receive Federal funds. They specify that faith-based organizations cannot be excluded from the competition for Federal funds simply because they are religious. These laws also provide that faith-based organizations that receive Federal funds may continue to carry out their missions consistent with their beliefs. For example, they may maintain a religious environment in their facilities, and they may consider their religious beliefs in hiring and firing employees.

The Charitable Choice laws also impose certain restrictions on faith-based organizations. They spell out specific "do's" and "don'ts" for faith-based groups receiving Federal money. The laws specify that religious organizations that receive Federal funds must serve all eligible participants, regardless of those persons' religious beliefs. They also prohibit religious organizations from using Federal funds to support any inherently religious activities (such as worship, religious instruction, or proselytization).

In addition, recipients of services provided under Charitable Choice laws have a right to be provided with services from a non-religious provider. President Bush believes that recipients of Federal services should be offered a choice of providers. That is why it is preferable to have a range of providers, both secular and faith-based.

In addition to these requirements, the Community Service Block Grant and SAMHSA versions of the Charitable Choice laws also require religious organizations to maintain separate accounts for the Federal funds they receive.

Do the Charitable Choice laws mean that faith-based organizations can apply for funds only from these four Federal programs?

No. The Charitable Choice laws merely set out clear guidelines for government funding of faith-based organizations in these four programs. However, as we have outlined earlier, all Federal programs that permit nonprofit organizations to apply for funds are also open to faith-based organizations. President Bush's Faith-Based and Community Initiative is designed to make sure that the playing field is level for all groups that apply for funding from any Federal program.

Do the Charitable Choice laws mean that faith-based organizations get "special treatment"?

No. These laws do not set aside funds for faith-based organizations. Faith-based organizations that receive Federal funding are held to the same standards as all other providers of services. For example, they must comply with the accounting requirements that apply to other organizations, and they must demonstrate that their organization serves the purposes of the program. These laws simply recognize that faith-based organizations have a role to play in the provision of Federally-funded social services, and they clarify how these programs should be operated.

"I believe in the power of faith in people's lives. Our government should not fear programs that exist because a church or a synagogue or a mosque has decided to start one. We should not discriminate against programs based upon faith in America. We should enable them to access Federal money, because faith-based programs can change people's lives, and America will be better off for it."

~ President George W. Bush

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