As I have traveled the country in this election year, many progressives have asked me whether I believe a vote for Ralph Nader is justified to promote the longer-term goal of a truly representative democracy--with third and fourth parties--in which progressives would have a larger piece of the governing pie. My answer to them is no. Regardless of whether progressives believe that third-party politics makes sense, Nader is not, and cannot be, the standard-bearer for such an effort. Why not? In short, because Nader's agenda and his record have been far too narrow to serve as a springboard for progressive politics in the twenty-first century.
In fact, in any comparison between Nader and Vice President Gore, Gore is far more qualified to shepherd progressive causes than Nader. And I say this as someone who has fought for progressive causes in Congress for thirty-five years. I say this as someone who learned under Martin Luther King Jr.'s tutelage the interconnectedness of the multiple progressive issues in forming a more just society.
While Nader was fighting for a safer bus, Gore was fighting so that Rosa Parks could get a seat on the bus. It's not that Nader did not support civil rights but it did not appear to be a central concern. It was for Al Gore. Despite the potential cost (his father, Al Gore Sr., lost his Senate seat in part because of his support for civil rights legislation), Al Gore has been there not just in word but in deed for the civil rights struggle. As senator, he not only supported landmark civil rights legislation but actively sought out the Congressional Black Caucus to help plan strategy. In the White House, he was frequently our "go to" guy and our strongest inside ally on hate crimes and racial profiling and in our efforts to kill legislation to repeal affirmative action.
We in the civil rights movement know the difference between an active crusader and a mere supporter of the struggle. Gore has been an active crusader. Nader, by contrast, has been a mere supporter. Indeed, the same can be said of Nader across the spectrum of first-tier progressive causes, such as women's rights. While Nader led the commendable fight against dangerous contraceptives, seldom was he pounding the pavement in defense of choice. By contrast, Gore spent years in Congress and the White House actively fighting for choice. In Congress he fought to codify Roe v. Wade, and in the White House he campaigned to kill countless bills that encroached on the cherished constitutional protection. He also led the charge on the Violence Against Women Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Equal Pay Act and increasing the minimum wage. When you measure the sweat off the brow that Gore and Nader have expended on women's issues, Gore wins, hands down.
Al Gore has also made a centerpiece of his agenda something else that women, particularly mothers, are demanding--common-sense gun safety legislation. While Gore cast the tiebreaking vote in the Senate to close the gun show loophole and helped lead the fight for the Brady law in 1994, Nader has, until recently, been largely mum. Credible progressives are hard pressed to justify a vote for Nader over Gore based on this as well.
The space on this page does not allow me to continue the litany. But if we closely study not just the positions that each may take at election time but the level of passion and commitment that each has shown on these and other issues critical to progressives--supporting public education and smaller classrooms, maintaining the Social Security and Medicare safety nets, and a wide range of other issues--we'll find that Gore has toiled far longer, far more consistently and with far more sweat on issues fundamental to progressives. And while both Gore and Nader have dedicated themselves to progressive causes, Gore has devoted his career to a far broader progressive agenda.
I take the opportunity to express this on these pages not simply because I believe that a vote for Nader is effectively a vote for Bush, although I believe that it is. I say this also because I believe that progressives cannot build a multiracial, multicultural and multisocioeconomicmovement based on Nader's record as compared with Gore's.
JOHN CONYERS JR.
When I cast my vote Election Day, I intend to cast it in favor of progressive ideas and grassroots action. I'm going to support a genuine alternative to a closed system where two parties often act with a single agenda--an agenda that simply does not address the daily reality of millions of citizens. I'm going to lend my voice to the fundamental concept that government should serve the needs of the people, not a handful of multinational corporations. In other words, I'm voting for Ralph Nader.
If you're talkin' politics, my decision has never been simpler. Nader speaks openly against the death penalty and in support of women's rights, plus his environmental stand is exemplary. Nader and the Greens also want to cut military spending, end the drug war and attack poverty at its systemic roots. They represent the best way to follow through on the groundswell of anticapitalist activism currently uniting progressives across traditional boundaries of gender, class and generation. I don't expect him to win, of course, but I know that a vote for him truly counts over the long haul, because it's helping to bust open the stifling two-party stranglehold on our system and bring progressive voices into the national political discourse.
'Course, there's just one little hitch. The way the Electoral College works, a majority of votes for any given candidate wins the whole state, and there are certain states where Gore or Bush will be a clear winner. In my home state, New York, for instance, it's easy to vote for Nader without worrying that I am aiding a Bush victory. But in the swing states (currently, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin), a Green Party vote really does mean that Bush comes one vote closer to winning. While I am sensitive to the power of a symbolic protest vote, there are larger issues at stake in this election. It's true that Democrats and Republicans have grown disturbingly similar, but there are still profound differences between their agendas. If I found myself in a swing state, I'd remember the record number of executions Governor Bush has authorized in Texas, for instance, and I'd think long and hard about the bleak future of women's reproductive rights in a Republican-controlled White House. And my vote would go to Al Gore.
I firmly believe that if all of us progressive thinkers around the country collaborate in a thoughtful strategy, we can achieve the dual goals of getting the Green Party on the ballot for future elections and getting Gore into the White House, thereby preventing the tragedy of a Baby Bush administration.
Because my vote does count, this year more than ever. The choice may not be cut and dried, but one thing is obvious: I don't want an even dumber Bush in office, and I don't want my actions to allow that to happen.
P.S. These articles helped shape my thinking: Eric Alterman, "Bush or Gore: Does It Matter?" [Oct. 16] and Katha Pollitt's "Subject to Debate" of October 9.
Righteous Babe Records
Two weeks ago I heard my students here at UMass coughing in class from the lingering effects of the macing they received in Boston for trying to get Ralph Nader heard in the presidential debates. For the first time in decades there is something in the air, a genuine resistance to corporate tyranny--and then what? I come home tonight to read that a vote for Nader is, in your opinion, simply too radical an act. Why don't you just change your name to The New Republic and get it over with?
The Woodlands, Tex.
Your courageous and practical editorial urging people to vote for Gore in states where a vote for Nader might tip the election to Bush was a pleasant surprise. I am a lifelong (53-year-old), left-wing Democrat and have always chosen to fight my party from within. I wanted to bolt over the death penalty and welfare "reform," but I've seen new parties come and go while the Democratic Party endures, warts and all--the only party that can stand against the Republicans. And just think, most of the people in the House who would get chairmanships, if the Democrats take over, are liberals.
KAREN A. SISCO
The Clinton/Gore Administration really has brought minorities into government in record numbers. That offsets, for me, the disappointment over the failure to enact national healthcare and other needed reforms. Another Clinton/
Gore policy was the return of Father Aristide to Haiti--the only US foreign policy initiative I've supported in the past forty years. My heart is with Nader, a truly heroic figure, but my head says Gore.
ROBERTO SANCHEZ MENDES
New York City
The Clinton years have made it crystal clear that Congress--especially the Senate--plays as important a role in governance (including who gets onto the Supreme Court) as the President. We also know that which party controls the Senate is likely to be decided by one or two state races. Therefore, it is essential that Joe Lieberman and not a Republican become the next senator from Connecticut. For that to happen, Lieberman must lose the election for Vice President. Viewed in that light, voting for Ralph Nader is not only morally right, it is strategically right. As a slogan for the remaining days of this election season, Greens might consider: "Help the Democrats Win Control of Congress--Vote for Ralph Nader."
I'm glad The Nation is calling on people to vote for Gore in close states. If Bush wins--in any way that can be attributed to Nader, and it's hard to imagine him winning in any other way--then for a number of people the entire left or progressive project/approach that The Nation champions will seem not to be worth the candle. I'd rather not face that miserable scenario.
Thank you for your Supreme Court issue, "Up for Grabs: The Supreme Court and the Election" [Oct. 9], which makes the point that Bush vs. Gore will literally make a life-or-death difference in the federal courts. As someone who practices daily in federal court, I can assure you that the difference between our new Clinton appointee (one of the few to be confirmed) and the prior Reagan appointee is the difference between day and night.
JAMES T. RANNEY
The Nation's special issue on the Supreme Court was a useful reminder about the importance of the judicial branch to progressives, but why was the only message, both explicit and implicit, to vote for Al Gore for President? We need a serious debate about growing reactionary trends in law and how to combat them, but you left out some significant voices and perspectives in your discussion. A full discussion paper, Saving the Courts, is available on our website (www.votenader.org/issues/court_save.html). I offer here a few remarks in the very limited space allowed.
Here in Washington, the front-page news recently was that the Supreme Court, by a margin of 8 to 1, summarily rejected a voting rights lawsuit brought by the District of Columbia on behalf of the 600,000 Americans who live in the city and have no voting representation in Congress. The sole dissenter was Justice John Paul Stevens, who was nominated by President Gerald Ford. In the prior 2-to-1 decision in the district court, two judges appointed by President Clinton had determined that Washingtonians, nearly two-thirds of whom are African-American, have no constitutional right to vote. The lone dissenter, Louis Oberdorfer, was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson and reflects the kind of passionate champion of civil rights and civil liberties who no longer gets appointed to the bench by Democratic Presidents. Needless to say, despite intense local appeals, the Clinton Justice Department vigorously opposed the voting rights suit, which had the strong support of the DC Council, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Mayor Anthony Williams.
The corporate Democratic judges recently appointed to the courts go with the flow in this fashion. The Clinton Administration itself has been something of a civil liberties nightmare, as documented repeatedly by Anthony Lewis and Nat Hentoff. Rapid expansion of the death penalty at the federal level, destruction of habeas corpus, warrantless searches of public housing, increasing wiretap authority, a stepped-up failed War on Drugs, secret evidence in deportation proceedings--these are policies pursued by the Democrats in the White House. Except for abortion (which George W. Bush appears to have surrendered on, given his understanding of where most Americans stand after the triumph of the women's movement), it is hard to think of any significant differences between the Democrats and Republicans on civil liberties issues. When at one of the debates Bush said he opposed allowing gays and lesbians to marry, Gore enthusiastically agreed, essentially now putting him to the right of Dick Cheney! I opposed the Defense of Marriage Act, which the Democrats supported, and defend the equal rights of gays and lesbians in every sphere of life, including civil unions.
Whom do we suppose Al Gore would appoint to the Supreme Court? Not Lani Guinier, whom they dropped like a hot potato. Not longtime Clinton friend Peter Edelman, whose widely discussed nomination to a federal appeals judgeship was promptly dropped by Clinton after Republicans objected to his scholarship on ending poverty. Not anyone remotely so visionary or brave as the late Justices William Brennan or Thurgood Marshall. Not even anyone so progressive as Justice David Souter, President Bush's appointment, who has turned out to be significantly more interested in civil liberties and democracy than, for example, Justice Stephen Breyer. Recall Forbes v. Arkansas Educational Television Commission (1998), where a majority that included Breyer upheld the right of state-owned television broadcasters to exclude third-party candidates from government-sponsored campaign debates. It was only Souter, joined in his passionate dissent by Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who stood up for the First Amendment rights of outsider parties and the democratic right of the people to decide elections for ourselves. The same three (two Republican appointees, one Democratic) dissented in Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party (1997), where Breyer cheerfully joined with the conservatives to uphold undemocratic antifusion laws that stifle third-party organization.
Many liberals like to complain about the growing conservatism of the Democratic Party but then jump on the bandwagon at election time in the name of saving the Supreme Court. Millions of people are refusing to play that game this year. Many remember the unanimous support for Justice Scalia by Senate Democrats and the eleven Democratic senators, in a Democrat-controlled Senate, who put Justice Thomas over the top in a 52-to-48 confirmation vote.
These views deserve some support and analysis in your fine pages.
New York City
You overestimate the historical correlation between the voting records of Supreme Court Justices and the politics of the Presidents who appointed them. Dwight Eisenhower, an opponent of big government and judicial activism, appointed not only liberal lion Earl Warren but also William Brennan. Richard Nixon selected Harry Blackmun as a law-and-order conservative. Ronald Reagan chose Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy, and George Bush chose David Souter, primarily because they were expected to overturn Roe v. Wade; all three now vote to uphold Roe.
In contrast, progressive Presidents often elevate reactionary Justices: All four of Harry Truman's Court picks (Vinson, Burton, Minton and Clark) turned out to be far more conservative than the Democratic Party of the fifties; privacy-opponent Byron White's views certainly did not reflect those of booster John Kennedy. Franklin Roosevelt would have been surprised by the segregationist sentiments of his second nominee, Stanley Reed.
JACOB M. APPEL
In addition to abortion rights, there are a number of other constitutional and statutory protections for women's rights that could be threatened by even a slight change in the Supreme Court's majority. For one thing, equal protection guarantees are at risk. This Supreme Court term marks the thirtieth anniversary of the landmark decision, in Reed v. Reed, that applied Fourteenth Amendment equal-protection principles to prohibit sex discrimination. Since Reed, the Court has struck down laws based on stereotypes about women as the weaker sex and has opened jobs, educational opportunities and basic citizenship rights to women. Yet three current Justices (Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas) have rejected the post-Reed heightened scrutiny of gender classifications. Justice Scalia, in his dissent in the 1996 case opening up the Virginia Military Institute to women, even cited with approval a 1948 decision that upheld a state law prohibiting a woman from working as a bartender unless she was the daughter or wife of the bar owner.
A Court with a different majority could also extend its hostility to a woman's right to choose beyond abortion itself to opposing protection of women's access to reproductive health clinics, to allowing more state control over pregnant women and even to restricting specific forms of contraception. If the latter seems unthinkable, note that four current members of the Court have already endorsed the preamble to a Missouri law that defines human life to begin at conception, with conception defined as the time of fertilization. This could make methods of contraception, like forms of the pill and the IUD, unlawful.
In addition, many key federal statutory protections against discrimination are in place only as a result of slim majorities, and a current majority holds a restrictive view of Congress's authority, which has already resulted in the invalidation of an important provision of the Violence Against Women Act and which could jeopardize other critical protections for women's rights. These include the right of state employees to sue their employers for damages under civil rights laws of particular importance to women, such as the Equal Pay Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Many rights women take for granted are not nearly as secure as they might think. A new report, The Supreme Court and Women's Rights: Fundamental Protections Hanging in the Balance, provides more detail and is available at www.nwlc.org.
MARCIA D. GREENBERGER
NANCY DUFF CAMPBELL
National Women's Law Center
Those who argue that "it's the Supreme Court, stupid" in this election have misread judicial history. The Court rarely leads; it "follows th' iliction returns," in the words of Mr. Dooley.
The Dred Scott decision validated the pervasive racism of the nineteenth century and said the Constitution was a slaveholders' document, the identical view of the abolitionists. The objectors in the North did not primarily object to its racism but to the argument that Congress had no power to restrict slavery in the territories. After all, slavery was buttressed by those pillars of society, market capitalism, the Constitution, property rights and the protection of property from federal interference. The Court in Dred Scott did not lead, it validated the values of the time.
What about Plessy v. Ferguson, which enshrined segregation in the 1890s? The conservative Court simply ratified the abandonment of radical Reconstruction, which gave blacks the vote but left them economically defenseless.
When the Court in the thirties validated the National Labor Relations Act, it did so after violent and painful organizing drives of the CIO and a growing number of sit-down strikes. When labor suffered numerous Court defeats between 1900 and 1937, it was after the redbaiting of World War I, the crushing of the Wobblies, the open-shop propaganda, etc. The Court in 1915 even said workers who signed a "yellow dog" contract, pledging not to join a union, were off-limits to union organizers.
Brown v. Board of Education was not an open road to the end of segregation; it took another ten years to write in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and desegregation "with all deliberate speed" became a perfect out for school boards. The courts are like the public schools, both presumably bulwarks of democracy, but as a retired Chicago public school teacher I would argue that the schools, like the courts, validate both the good and evil of the time.
GERALD R. ADLER
Dennis Hoover is mistaken when he recommends that we say "Yes to Charitable Choice" [Aug. 7/14]. The issue is exactly the same as with religious schools. If some people believe that God wants them to establish schools for their children, the Constitution says they have the right to do that but not to receive public tax money for it. If they believe God wants them to accept other children into their schools and keep religious indoctrination to a minimum, they still cannot use public tax money. Likewise, if some people believe God wants them to do charitable works and not to restrict the beneficiaries to their own denomination, the Constitution says they have the right to do that but not to receive public tax money for it. There is no question that both activities benefit society. The problem is that how the activities are carried out depends entirely on what those people happen to believe. Government restrictions on how the tax money is spent still do not solve this problem, since the money releases other money to be spent however the religious organization believes it should be. The only consistent position on both questions is the one indicated by the Constitution: no government financial aid to religious organizations, even when their activities benefit society as a whole.
RICHARD J. BURKE
New York City
Dennis Hoover writes that support for charitable choice is linked philosophically to a "new religious center" and not to the religious right. It's true that moderate groups are now being aggressively recruited to act as service providers under charitable choice contracts. But the core impetus and ideology behind the current spate of legislation and promotion do not come from the center, and they deserve careful scrutiny. The charitable choice concept draws heavily on the thinking of Abraham Kuyper, who developed and implemented the notion of social "pillarization" in the Netherlands a hundred years ago. In Kuyper's scheme, each ethnic and religious group in a pluralistic society runs its own institutions and services; these separate "pillars" support the social whole, but public services as we have known them in this country--services open to all and fostering interaction and mutual understanding--are made to disappear. Hardcore charitable choice ideologues in the United States make no secret of the fact that they want to see Horace Mann's conception of "common" schools replaced with a similar patchwork of faith-based or group-based schools. Should this really be on the progressive agenda?
Hoover correctly reports that as the legislation is written, faith-based service providers won't be able to discriminate against clients on religious grounds. But it is by no means clear that they won't be able to discriminate on other grounds, notably sexual orientation; moreover, faith-based groups have historically had fairly wide latitude to engage in employment discrimination when claiming a religious rationale, and there is no reason to think this will change when these groups are spending public funds.
Charitable choice is a provision of the failed welfare reform legislation of 1996, founded on the principle that people are impoverished because of bad choices and irresponsible behavior. The systemic causes of poverty and the unprecedented wealth gap of the past twenty-five years are not considered. Part of the neoliberal project clearly involves tempering the harshness and salving some wounds with a dose of good old Christian charity. But should the churches be accepting the basic situation of systemic injustice? What happens to their prophetic voice if they are willing to play the role of junior partner to Pharaoh? This is not just a matter of the churches' own integrity; nonreligious progressives also have a stake in preserving an independent religious sector that has not been bought out by the totalizing neoliberal agenda.
REV. PETER LAARMAN
Judson Memorial Church
REV. PAUL CHAPMAN
The Employment Project
If progressives support charitable choice, they will unnecessarily sacrifice civil liberties in their war against poverty. Charitable choice was designed to allow houses of worship (and other groups that integrate religion into their social service) to receive government grants and contracts for their social service ministries. But how can the government fund faith-drenched services without unconstitutionally advancing religion? Hoover insists that the government will simply require churches and other religious providers to "demonstrate that public funds do not pay for religious speech (specifically 'sectarian worship, instruction or proselytization')." But no one has begun to explain how the government will perform this task and otherwise regulate a church or other pervasively religious group without becoming excessively and unconstitutionally entangled with religion.
Although Hoover and others assure us that politicians will pass out a limited number of social service grants and contracts to selected religions without favoritism for "secularism over religion, religion over secularism or for one religion over another," the truth is that politicians find it almost impossible to resist playing politics with religion, including favoring majority over minority faiths. Furthermore, progressives should ask how the government will insure that social service beneficiaries will truly have the ability to opt out of religious activities in these settings. Finally, progressives should consider the fact that charitable choice attempts to allow a religious provider to reject a particular taxpayer for a tax-funded employee position because he or she isn't the "right" religion or does not hold the "right" religious beliefs.
What Hoover characterizes as potential minor defects are actually grave structural errors. These problems can be avoided with appropriate safeguards, but such safeguards have been repeatedly rejected by charitable choice supporters. Progressives should not join charitable choice proponents who, for many different reasons, are dismissing profound constitutional and civil liberties concerns. Instead, progressives should raise questions about charitable choice and demand appropriate safeguards to protect individual liberties.
Joint Baptist Committee
As a clergyman who cherishes the First Amendment, I was shocked to see a defense of charitable choice in The Nation. Charitable choice goes further in destroying the time-tested separation of church and state, and replaces it with a doctrine of religious accommodation by government, than any initiative on the political agenda. It transforms churches into administrative arms of the state and is a very dangerous idea. Dennis Hoover's claim that charitable choice is predominantly supported by mainline religious groups is debatable. What is certain is that the judicial doctrine invoked to legitimize charitable choice is a darling of the far right. The dubious constitutional doctrine of non-preferentialism, which asserts that government may support religious groups as long as it doesn't discriminate among religions, is powerfully championed by the Christian Coalition and receives endorsement from Justices Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas. Lamentably, Bush, Gore and Lieberman have appropriated this new turn in constitutional interpretation.
Hoover states that faith-based organizations "must demonstrate that public funds do not pay for religious speech," including proselytization. Whom are we kidding? Does he really believe that when confronted with a commandment from God Almighty to win souls, committed evangelicals will be deterred by what will seem like a bureaucratic nicety? Why should they, when the guiding premise of charitable choice is that services rendered through faith commitments are superior to those delivered by secular agencies? Moreover, charitable choice permits faith-based organizations to serve the needy in religious sanctuaries rather than in secular settings, as has pertained. The stage is set for rampant missioning. No one should ever be placed in the demeaning position of having to compromise his or her religious conscience in the face of neediness and dependence on others. Charitable choice will make this violation commonplace.
Charitable choice augurs other dangers. It will set church against church in a battle for public funds. It will force the courts to pass judgment on competing theological positions in order to determine which churches are pervasively sectarian and which not. Government oversight of public funds will be either rigorous or lax. If lax, churches will be tempted to use funding for their ongoing religious purposes. If strict, government agents will show up at church doors demanding to audit their books. Is that what we want in a nation that professes religious freedom?
Hoover states that charitable choice provides protection for the religious identities of service workers. Yes, for those within the faith of the organization but not for those outside it. Faith-based organizations will be able to discriminate, for example, against those who dance, drink, smoke, are divorced or have had an abortion, if those practices offend the strictures of the faith.
Finally, charitable choice will muffle religion's prophetic voice. Religion plays its most important social role when it stands outside the precincts of secular power and critiques the abuses of government from the plateau of higher moral values. It's dubious that churches, as recipients of the state's largesse, will bite the hand that feeds them. In this age of moral anxiety, of which religious triumphalism is a consequence, it's become widely assumed that religion can be nothing but good. It's an ominous blindness. The Founding Fathers knew better. Experience had taught them that the entanglement of religion with state inevitably oppresses religious freedom and elevates the state's power to dangerous proportions.
Western society has taken 300 years to put the tiger in the cage. It's disturbing that Dennis Hoover joins those who want to let it loose.
DR. JOSEPH CHUMAN
Ethical Culture Society
The most striking error in these letters is Joseph Chuman's assertion that charitable choice forces government to determine which religious organizations are "pervasively sectarian." This problematic task is precisely what the government used to have to undertake under the old "no aid" regime, which denied eligibility for grants to "pervasively sectarian" organizations, and thus unjustly discriminated in favor of providers whose vision of social service could abide secularization. Charitable choice embodies a more robust understanding of government neutrality toward all in a religiously pluralistic and multicultural society. It levels the playing field, requiring not that grantees strip themselves of "sectarianism," whatever that means, but rather that they be able to account for their use of public funds.
Melissa Rogers frets over the intrusiveness of this accounting requirement, but how can measuring degrees of religious sectarianism be considered less difficult and meddlesome than reviewing accounting records? Rogers will also have to explain why she thinks politicians are more likely to try to play favorites under charitable choice than they were under the old rules.
Rogers is joined by Chuman, Peter Laarman and Paul Chapman in complaining about the fact that charitable choice allows a faith-based organization to hire only those who agree with its religious worldview. But this complaint is simply another way for critics to say they don't like the way charitable choice levels the playing field. Nothing could be more basic to maintaining the distinctive religious character of an organization than making sure the relevant staff share foundational assumptions. What could be more "totalizing" than forcing all nonprofit grantees into the same secular mold? Consider also that religious organizations have long had an exemption from the bar on religious discrimination in employment found in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and this exemption is not sacrificed when religious organizations receive public funds not earmarked for specific positions.
Furthermore, the word "choice" is in the label "charitable choice" for good reason. Rogers, Laarman and Chapman are concerned about religious liberty for individual welfare beneficiaries, but the law is clear: Charitable choice mandates that secular programs be available for clients who so choose. Also, if a beneficiary agrees to receive services from a religious provider, he or she is empowered to opt out of explicitly religious activities. Analogous principles of choice have long been reflected in federal subsidy programs for college education (such as the GI Bill).
It is nonsense to charge, as does Chuman, that charitable choice is the "darling of the far right." Is there really a vast right-wing conspiracy interested in spending public money on welfare services? In achieving genuine neutrality in the relationship between church and state? For rhetorical purposes, it is obvious enough why leftist critics of charitable choice would characterize their own position as "mainstream" and relegate others to the lunatic fringe. But, like it or not, "centrist" is easily the best shorthand way of characterizing charitable choice. Both Al Gore and George W. Bush endorse charitable choice, and Joe Lieberman is a co-chair of Congress's bipartisan Empowerment Caucus, which supports charitable choice. There are also Democratic governors who have made implementing charitable choice a priority (e.g., Governor Frank O'Bannon of Indiana). The coalition of religious groups that back charitable choice likewise spans the usual left-right divide.
Several critics say charitable choice is somehow uniquely corrupting of religion--in particular that it "will muffle religion's prophetic voice," as Chuman puts it. Chuman presumes to tell us that the right social role for religion is to "stand outside" secular power and hand down critiques "from the plateau of higher moral values." But the actual prophetic tradition includes some who were court insiders. And even if we acknowledge the potentially subversive effects of government subsidies, this is hardly a new problem unique to charitable choice. Religiously affiliated agencies have long received subsidies to deliver services. If religious groups think that it is important to speak out against the systemic sources of injustice (and I wish more did) but fear suffering a complete moral collapse when faced with a grant application, they need not participate. Charitable choice is just an option, not a draft notice.
In fact, legally, charitable choice is consistent with the free speech principle, long touted by liberals in the nonprofit community, that government cannot censor the privately funded speech of grant recipients. For years, right-wing forces have attempted to deny grants to nonprofits that use private money to engage in advocacy activities on behalf of disadvantaged constituencies. Liberals have rightly challenged this, defending the ability of nonprofits to properly account for their use of public funds. Charitable choice says religious nonprofits should not have their privately funded religious speech censored when they take public money to deliver welfare services. We cannot play favorites with the First Amendment rights of nonprofits.
Richard Burke's letter sniffs at my suggestion that we factor lowly "public opinion" into our thinking. But I wonder if he realizes whose opinions he so pointedly refuses to dignify with a response? More Democrats (61 percent) than Republicans (46 percent) favor the charitable choice concept, and support among African-Americans rises to 74 percent. Recent studies by Mark Chaves of the University of Arizona show that liberal congregations and African-American congregations are the most likely to be interested in participating.
In recent years some voices on the left (see for example Michael Kazin, "The Politics of Devotion," in the April 6, 1998, Nation) have warned that if the left wants to avoid permanently alienating itself from a mass constituency, it must reacquaint itself with religious progressives and make peace with new antipoverty movements among Christians, such as the Call to Renewal (which supports charitable choice). But, rhetorical gestures notwithstanding, the idea that social policy might actually include religious institutions is still hard for some progressives to get their minds around.
Our readers and Ellen Schrecker and Maurice Isserman on "The Right's Cold War Revision."
Marc Cooper's July 24/31 "Where's Hoffa Driving the Teamsters?"
provoked a storm of controversy from Honolulu to Brooklyn.
"Biased" was the term used most often in the scores of letters sent
in response to John Dinges's "What's Going on at Pacifi