No Aid to Religion? Charitable Choice and the First Amendment

Sider, Ronald J. and Heidi Rolland Unruh. “‘No Aid to Religion?’ Charitable Choice and the First Amendment.” Brookings Review 17(2):46-50, Spring 1999.

In “‘No Aid to Religion?’”, Ronald Sider and Heidi Rolland Unruh defend the constitutionality and suitability of the “Charitable Choice” provision of the federal government’s 1996 welfare reform law, arguing that it allows government to cooperate legitimately with holistic faith-based agencies in meeting social needs without discriminating against nor favoring any religious perspective. The authors find the “no aid to religion” principle established by the 1947 Supreme Court decision in Emerson v. Board of Education as unfairly siding with secular over religiously-based organizations. By distinguishing four types of social service providers—the secular provider, the religiously affiliated/secular provider, the exclusively faith-based provider and the holistic faith-based provider—Sider and Unruh seek to demonstrate how exclusive government funding for the first two providers based on the “no aid to religion” principle actually constitutes support for the quasi-religious perspective of philosophical naturalism underlying the secular approach to social service. This, they claim, serves to discriminate against faith-based providers and constitutes a genuine though subtle establishment of religion. On the other hand, Charitable Choice strengthens First Amendment protections and safeguards religious integrity while providing the opportunity for church-state cooperation on behalf of the those in need.