A Texas district court has been asked to decide whether it is constitutional for government to pay church groups that provide social services with religious overtones, the Dallas Morning News reported July 25.
The American Jewish Congress and the Texas Civil Rights Project have filed a lawsuit against the Texas state government. The suit asserts that officials violated both the Texas and U.S. Constitutions when they gave a state contract to a group that uses Christian theology to prepare welfare recipients to work.
The contract expired in December, but the groups are asking for a repayment of more than $8,000 in state money spent on the program, as well as a prohibition on similar arrangements in the future.
State officials told the Morning News that there was nothing improper about the contract between the Department of Human Services and the Jobs Partnership of Washington County, a coalition of Christian churches and businesses.
A representative of Gov. George W. Bush told the Morning News the program is free and voluntary, and that state money does not support its religious aspects. He added that welfare recipients who are uncomfortable with the religious side of the program are offered a secular alternative.
The lawsuit is believed to be the first in the country to challenge a 1996 federal provision known as “charitable choice.” Charitable choice made it easier for church groups to win government contracts to provide social services. The provision forbids proselytizing or using government money to subsidize worship activities, but allows groups to keep religious icons on the walls and to require employees to be of a certain faith.
Both Bush and Vice President Al Gore have supported charitable choice.
For full story, see the Dallas Morning News.