The Winter 2004 Wilson Quarterly discusses the article “Debunking Charitable Choice: The Evidence Doesn’t Support the Political Left or Right” by Mark Chaves, in Stanford Social Innovation Review (Summer 2003)
There’s very little discrimination against religious groups in the competition for government grants and contracts. “In a few cases, overzealous bureaucrats have demanded that Catholic hospitals remove crucifixes or the Salvation Army refrain from using the word ‘salvation,’” according to Chaves. But over the decades, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of grants and contracts have gone to religious organizations, large and small. Catholic Charities gets about 60 percent of its funds from government sources, and the Salvation Army about 20 percent.
Nor is the typical religious congregation deeply involved in aiding the downtrodden, Chaves points out. “Only six percent of congregations have a staff person devoting at least quarter time to social service projects.” Clergy, according to time-use studies, spend minimal hours on community activities of any sort. And in 80 percent of the congregations making an effort, no more than 30 volunteers are involved over the course of a year.
So, two of the main arguments offered on behalf of faith-based programs are completely wrong. Religious groups are not discriminated against and already receive large numbers of grants. There is no “discrimination against religious groups,” but religious groups cannot receive money for proselytization — just charitable work. Faith-based programs are, then, an attempt to get government funding for proselytization.
Second, most religious congregations simply don’t do much charity work in the first place. Even the clergy spend little time dealing with charitable projects; instead, they are focused primarily on the religious missions of their communities. Why would we expect anything else? If most congregations don’t do much charitable work, then they certainly can’t be lacking government funding for charities!