Charitable Choice

July 22, 1999

If you haven't heard the phrase "charitable choice," you will be hearing it a lot in the future since both George Bush and Al Gore have made the issue a campaign issue. Its genesis began three years ago when Senator John Ashcroft turned the concept into legislative action. He tucked a measure called charitable choice into the package of welfare reforms that would reduce cash-assistance rolls across the country.

Under charitable choice, faith-based groups accepting government money to provide social services to the poor don't have to sacrifice their religious character. The law explicitly states that they are permitted to define and maintain their religious mission, choose their own government board, and keep their religious atmosphere. It also protects the right of recipients to receive help without religious coercion.

The concept is finding favor with those across the political spectrum. Liberals have long argued that care for the poor should be province of government while conservatives believe government should get out of the way.

Consider just one success story: the Avenue D Project in New York City. This 80-bed facility for drug-addicted, homeless men on Avenue D has a very high success rate. One year after rejoining the world, 80 percent of them are drug-free, employed with medical benefits and free of all governmental subsidies. Although residents are free to choose whether they participate in Bible studies and worship services, most do. When they leave, many become active members of faith communities and are reunited with spouses and children.

The program is four times more successful than government programs and at about half the cost. The difference is the faith factor in this program of charitable choice. Expect to hear more about this in the coming political campaign.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.