Welfare Reform and Faith-Based Organizations edited by Derek Davis and Barry Hankins (Waco, TX: J, M, Dawson institute of Church-State studies, Baylor University, 1999); 311 pp,; $27.95 cloth; $13.95 paper.
Baylor University in Waco, Texas, is sometimes referred to as the Baptist Harvard. Its J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies, probably the finest institution in the world dealing with that subject, produces the excellent quarterly Journal of Church and State and generates a steady stream of quality books on church-state issues. The institute is named after J. M. Dawson, the first director of the Baptist Joint Committee in Washington, D.C., which does a superb job of lobbying for religious liberty and church-state separation.
The Brookings Institution is a D.C.-based think tank with a liberal reputation. However, over the last decade or so it has published a number of books on church-state issues of the sort that one might expect from the ultraconservative Heritage Foundation or televangelist Pat Robertson's outfit.
Welfare Reform and Faith-Based Organizations is composed mainly of papers presented at a Dawson Institute symposium on charitable choice held at Baylor in 1998. A key feature of the book is a long essay on "The Neutral Treatment of Religion and Faith-Based Social Service Providers: Charitable Choice and Its Critics" by Carl Esbeck. Esbeck is the Missouri lawyer tapped by former senator and current U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to be the main architect of the 1996 welfare "reform" law, with its charitable choice provisions, sponsored by Ashcroft. Esbeck is currently a big shot in Ashcroft's Justice Department.
Esbeck's essay, quite simply, is a detailed legal blueprint for slowly destroying--rather in the manner of a boa constrictor killing its prey--the establishment clause of the First Amendment. And with justices like William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court--not to mention the court appointments being considered by George W. Bush--the strangulation process is already under way.
Fortunately, Esbeck's arguments are effectively countered in pieces by Dawson Institute's director Derek Davis, law professor Alan Brownstein, former Baptist Joint Committee counsel Melissa Rogers, and attorney Julie Segal. The symposium covers both sides of the issue and Davis' concluding essay, "Right Motive, Wrong Method," is one of the best defenses of church-state separation I have read.