The Problem with Faith-Based Contractors

There really is no constitutional problem with government contracting with religious organizations for purely secular services. The state can purchase medical care or babysitting or welfare services from any organization, religious or secular, having the capacity to deliver those services in a constitutionally appropriate way–i.e., without proselytizing vulnerable populations, etc.

A problem that is rarely discussed, however, has become painfully obvious in Washington, D.C.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington has announced that it will be “unable” to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city passes a proposed same-sex marriage law, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care.

So–do we allow religious organizations to make their continued participation in these programs contingent upon the District’s denial of fundamental rights to gays and lesbians? Or to put it another way, can the government give in to demands that its public policies be consistent with the religious beliefs of a contractor?

One of the problems with privatization in general is that too often, it is accompanied by a “hollowing out” of governmental capacity to provide essential services. In such cases, the contractor–secular or religious–has officials by the proverbial “short hairs.”


  1. Maybe we could provide the extra services made necessary by the church’s withdrawal by removing the tax exempt status the church presumably enjoys.

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