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Conservative Churches Say They Are Wary Of `Charitable Choice'.

A large number of conservative church leaders say they are very wary of accepting government funds to pay for social services, casting doubt on the feasibility of so-called "charitable choice" schemes.

Religion News Service (RNS) reported in October that University of Arizona sociology professor Mark Chavez has analyzed data from a 1998 national study of American congregations and concluded that only 3 percent of churches have ever accepted tax aid for a social service project. Chavez also found that only 28 percent of conservative and evangelical church leaders say they would consider applying for such aid.

By contrast, 40 percent of Roman Catholic churches said they would accept "charitable choice" aid, as do 41 percent of mainline Protestant leaders.

"Government funding will mainly go to African-American churches," Chavez told RNS. "Liberal, white churches will also step up and take advantage of this. But when it comes right down to it, signing a contract with a government agency is going to be much more difficult for a conservative church than a liberal church."

RNS interviewed several conservative pastors who expressed concern about taking government money. Most felt that too many strings would be attached. "We don't take government money and never will," Denny Nugent, director of development at Cleveland's City Mission said. "We've been here for 90 years. Even with this talk of faith-based organizations and charitable choice, we've found that there are always strings attached."

Nugent said the religious element is essential to his group's work and added that the Mission will not water down that aspect for government aid. "A relationship with God is the means by which people change their lives," he said. "If you don't change from within, any other change is a temporary Band-Aid approach. Without the freedom to teach that, our hands are tied."

In the New York City region, staffers at a Catholic-oriented shelter for AIDS patients called The Barn for the Poorest of the Poor are also skeptical of government money, even though the ministry is perpetually cash starved.

"We would object to any Army-type regimentation," said Barney Welch, founder of the ministry. "We don't want them to come in and do inspections and say the food crates we're using can't be used or that we need a different container."

Proponents of "charitable choice" have sought to get around church leaders' qualms by allowing churches to retain much of their sectarian flavor while still qualifying for tax aid. Many federal bills that contain "charitable choice," for example, permit the religious organizations to discriminate when hiring people to staff or oversee the programs.

"It's a really, really big deal for us in the faith community that we have a religious atmosphere in our facilities and maintain control of our internal governing boards. We don't want government telling us we have to have two gays and two of this and two of that instead of putting whoever we want from our church on the board," said Amy Sherman, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute who has studied "charitable choice."

Sherman, an evangelical Christian, says her study of "charitable choice" has led her to conclude that "religious groups accepting government funding are not having to sell their souls, and clients' civil liberties are being respected."

Americans United is not so sure of that. AU and other groups oppose "charitable choice" in part because the concept fosters taxpayer-funded discrimination on religious grounds. Earlier this year, Americans United and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky filed a lawsuit against a Baptist-run home for troubled youth in Kentucky that applies religious criteria in employment even though it is publicly funded.
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Publication:Church & State
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2000
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