This website is an archive and will no longer be updated. For continuing research and analysis of faith-based social services, turn to the
Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.


Indirect Financing of Faith-Based Social Services

Legal Analyses
Policy and Legal Discussion
News Reporting on Indirect-Financing Initiatives for Faith-Based Services

The Supreme Court's 2002 landmark decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris upheld the use of government vouchers to pay for private schooling, including religious schools, so long as the beneficiary exercised "genuine and independent private choice" of the school. Roundtable Legal Research Directors Ira Lupu and Robert Tuttle predicted in their analysis at the time of the Court's ruling that Zelman had opened wide the federal constitutional doors for beneficiary-choice financing of faith-based organizations. Indeed, that has proven true.

In 2003, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in a case known as McCallum II, reaffirmed the opportunity Zelman provided for faith-based social services. And following Zelman, the Bush Administration took a number of steps to realize that opportunity. An executive order issued Dec. 12, 2002 - "Equal Protection of the Laws for Faith-Based and Community Organizations" -- did not refer expressly to indirect financing of social services, but recognized the importance of such financing by confining its discussion of prohibited religious expenditures to directly financed programs. Several of President Bush's State of the Union speeches from 2003 onward gave prominent place to voucher-financed substance abuse treatment and other services, and many proposed and final rules from federal agencies in the following years recognized greater latitude for religious content in voucher-financed services.

Following Zelman, legal challenges to government funding of faith-based social service programs also frequently included debate over whether the funding was direct or indirect - and if indirect, whether it stood up to the standard of providing beneficiaries with "genuine and independent private choice." To meet that standard, beneficiaries must generally be able to choose among a menu of programs that includes secular and/or multi-faith alternatives. The Roundtable offers a host of resources analyzing and reporting on indirect financing for faith-based social services. These include:

Legal Analyses

The State of the Law 2008: A Cumulative Report on Legal Developments Affecting Government Partnerships with Faith-Based Organizations (go to page 11 for a discussion of direct and indirect funding)

Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc. (and others) v. Lisa Bjergaard, Daniel P. Richter, and the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch, Inc.

Teen Ranch, et al. v. Marianne Udow

American Jewish Congress v. Corporation for National and Community Service

Zelman, Superintendent of Public Instruction of Ohio, et. al. v. Simmons-Harris, et. al., United States Supreme Court

Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. McCallum and Faith Works, Milwaukee, Inc, 2003 U.S. LEXIS 6301 (7th Circuit, April 2, 2003)

Policy and Legal Discussion

2006 Annual Conference Transcript: "Teaching with a Mission: Faith-Based Organizations and Supplemental Educational Services"

2003 Spring Research Conference Transcript - Plenary Session - Private Choice of Public Services: Vouchers and Government Funding of Faith-Based Social Service Organizations

Sites of Redemption: A Wide-Angle Look at Government Vouchers and Sectarian Service Providers (Revised July, 2002)

Zelman's Future: Vouchers, Sectarian Providers, and the Next Round of Constitutional Battles

News Reporting on Indirect-Financing Initiatives for Faith-Based Services

White House Calls For Increased Public Funding of Religious Schools, October 14, 2008

Feds Promote Vouchers, other "Choices" to Advance Faith Initiative, September 2, 2008

Pilot Program Puts Faith in New Models of Service Choice, September 2, 2008

Court: Florida Voters Should Decide on Amendments to Allow Vouchers, Aug. 5, 2008

Lawsuit Challenges Changes Proposed to Allow School Vouchers in Florida,June 17, 2008

Florida Voters to Decide Whether to Alter Church-State Separation, April 1, 2008

Feds Distribute Vouchers to Add More Faith-Based Mentoring Programs, January 29, 2008

Faith-Based Groups Receive One-Third of Addiction Service Vouchers, September 25, 2007

Program Seeks to Prepare Ex-Cons for Work, Provide Model for Social Service Vouchers, Aug. 7, 2007

Addiction Treatment Vouchers Still Valid, but States Plan for Expiration, April 10. 2007

Vouchers Among Proposals to Improve Education Law, March 20, 2007

States Peer Over Borders for Best Practices, Dec. 19, 2006

Bush Faith-Based Drug Treatment Initiative Faces Elimination by Congress, Aug. 15, 2006

Public Funding of School Vouchers Gets Boost, July 25, 2006

Budget, Religious Hiring Rights, and School Aid for Hurricane, Oct. 25, 2005

Administration Targets Faith-Based Providers for Grants, Aug. 9, 2004

Social Security Legislation Includes Use of Vouchers for Faith-Based Providers, Feb. 17, 2004

First Federal School Voucher Plan On President's Desk -- Faith-Based Schools Eligible to Participate, Jan. 26, 2004

Voucher Program for Faith-Based Drug Treatment Outlined at Congressional Hearing, Feb. 28, 2003