Thursday, February 7, 2008

New Threat to Charitable Choice

Secular and religious liberals have asked a Senate committee to eliminate a statutory provision that protects the religious liberty of faith-based social service providers.

The statutory provisions governing the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) guarantee that religious organizations providing critical services need not relinquish their religious identity to receive government support of those activities. More specifically, the statute codifies their constitutional liberty to preserve their religious character by drawing their personnel from among those who voluntarily share their religious beliefs.

Despite the widespread legal protection and accommodation of this freedom, a group called the "Coalition Against Religious Discrimination" (CARD) claims that the exercise of this freedom is the sort of invidious discrimination that should disqualify otherwise eligible religious social service providers from participating in government-funded social service programs. CARD sent a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, asking them to gut the charitable choice language in SAMHSA re-authorization legislation. The language was originally approved by a bi-partisan majority and signed by President Clinton.

CARD's members include the Human Rights Campaign, the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and People for the American Way.

Faith-based social service providers that consider religion in their personnel decisions are more likely to be theologically orthodox or traditional. The religious and secular left understands that, and wants to de-fund their cultural opponents, with little regard to the costs imposed upon those individuals who want services from faith-based substance abuse and mental health treatment providers.