Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

The Downsides of Relying on Government Aid for the Provision of Social Services

I agree strongly with Rick that the participation of Catholic and other religious organizations in programs like Charitable Choice and school vouchers raise troubling issues for the religious participant. As the Virginia Association of Baptists wrote in 1776, "those whom the State employs in its Service, it has a Right to regulate and dictate to." I think precisely these dangers are present when the government funds social and educational institutions today. Already, we have seen strings attached to the vouchers programs upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris and by the Wisconsin Supreme Court a few years earlier in Jackson v. Benson. The program in Zelman requires participating schools to "agree not to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, or ethnic background, or 'to advocate or foster unlawful behavior or teach hatred of any person or group on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin or religion.'" Such restrictions could be liberally construed to bar a Catholic school that approves of Operation Rescue or a fundamentalist Christian school that teaches that Satan is at work within Islam. The program in Jackson v. Benson required participating schools to permit voucher students to opt out of religious activities if their parents request. In the social services area, too, one can expect that the more governments privatize the provision of social services, the more they will seek to regulate the "private" sector they are funding. Indeed, a number of scholars are already advocating such regulation as a means of shaping deviant religious groups according to majoritarian "public values."

I have never written on vouchers or funding for faith-based social services programs because I cannot yet figure out how to address these problems adequately. On the one hand, if governments continue to move in the direction of privatizing social and educational functions and religious organizations do not or cannot participate, the resulting services will be skewed strongly in a secularist direction. Such skewing would be unfair and damaging to religion. But if religious organizations do participate, will they risk becoming part of a "private" sector heavily regulated by the government? Indeed, a sector that may take on more of the features of government bureaucracy as time goes on?


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