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The Faith-Based Initiative and the Freedom of the Church

Stephen C. Veltri


Over the last quarter century, federal funds have increasingly been made available to faith-based organizations. Although some programs involving these organizations have been controversial, presidential administrations and legislators from both political parties have generally supported extending federal grants to these groups. The federal courts have also aided the effort. Two decades ago, the courts frequently read the language of the First Amendment that prohibits the establishment of religion to require something of a strict separation of church and state. This separationist reading of the Constitution led the courts to strike down programs that enabled religious organizations to receive public funds and other support. In recent years, however, the United States Supreme Court has read the First Amendment to require the government to be neutral on matters related to religion. Under this view, government can neither favor nor disfavor religion. This approach has made it considerably easier for the federal courts to uphold programs that directed funds to religious groups. Indeed, the neutrality principle goes a long way toward justifying the funding of faith-based organizations engaged in social work. If two groups, one religious and the other secular, are engaged in providing the same social service, a neutral government should fund either both or neither.

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