“Charitable Choice”

During the drafting of the Welfare Reform Act in 1996, the then-senator from Missouri, John David Ashcroft (R-MO) advanced the innocent-sounding idea of “charitable choice.”  The reference label was something of a misnomer, for the covert intention of the program was to provide a wedge that would permit the government to fund religious groups and ministries.

Within weeks after George W. Bush swore upon two Bibles at his inauguration in 2001 to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution, he was leading the charge in support of the “Charitable Choice” policy.  And GWB installed John Ashcroft as his Attorney General.  Bush, a self-proclaimed “Born Again Christian,” quickly sought to distribute federal tax money to ministries, ostensibly to provide social services that happened to already be provided for through secular grantees and government agencies.  Bush pledged eight billion dollars in expanding “Charitable Choice” so churches and ministries received federal funds for “social services” which allowed them to proselytize!    The “charitable choice” policy really sought to alter the existing laws in a manner that could utilize the power of the federal government to support Christian conversions—a move that is in direct opposition to the religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Using tax dollars meant for public benefit works to fund churches and ministries to represent government social welfare is, in itself,  unconstitutional.  Add to this that Ashcroft’s so-called “Charitable Choice,” as attempted, intentionally avoided any protective safeguards that would prevent religious coercion and abuses.  Incorporating religion into publicly funded programs had always been avoided by the government, sometimes contracting separate entities of religious institutions and in that way established safeguards that protected the rights of the disadvantaged, the interests of all tax payers, and in this way insured the integrity of the representing groups.

Although “charitable choice” did become part of the welfare law of 1996, the constitutional concerns caused democracy’s representatives to hesitate in implementing the policy.  Many rightfully saw it as a disguised way of forcing taxpayers to subsidize religion whether they believed in its narrow spiritual worth or not–clearly a means of sabotaging the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.  It was telling that this knucklehead that pushed for “charitable choice” is the same guy who spent eight thousand dollars on blue curtains to hide the breasts of the statue Spirit of Justice and the male counterpart Majesty of Law

 But Bush at that time liked to think of himself as a god-chosen leader, and seemed hell-bent-for-leather on applying “charitable choice” to practically every aspect of government  funding.  The resultant unending “faith-based” hoopla made democracy tremble, alarmed civil liberties groups, and the educational and social service communities, and even the more rationally balanced religious communities.

Providing legitimate social service can be a noble endeavor for spiritually minded groups, but the “faith-based” initiative as attempted in the “charitable choice” ploy was a policy that was concerned with neither democratic nor genuine religious liberty.  But the radical religious right is still seeking to embezzle tax monies for their tyrannical beliefs.  American citizens must keep a watchful eye on these devilish anti-democratic insurgents.

Ashcroft took a teaching position at Pat Robertson’s Regent University after his stint as Attorney General.

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