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Written by John R. Vile, published on January 1, 2009 , last updated on February 18, 2024

Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (1996)

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) was part of the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, designed to bring about drastic alteration in the American welfare system and end the cycle of dependency that many believed the system had spawned. Responding to concerns that governmental aid to religious entities might violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment, PRWORA provided that states allocating federal welfare monies should treat religious groups providing services equally with purely secular groups. In this photo, President Bill Clinton signs his 1996 welfare reform package, including the PRWORA. (Image via Social Security Administration, public domain)

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) was part of the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, designed to bring about drastic alteration in the American welfare system and end the cycle of dependency that many believed the system had spawned. Responding to concerns that governmental aid to religious entities might violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment, PRWORA provided that states allocating federal welfare monies should treat religious groups providing services equally with purely secular groups.

 

States with welfare money should treat religious and secular groups equally

 

The law provided that no religious organization receiving such monies should be required either to change its internal governance or to “remove religious art, icons, scripture, or other symbols in order to be eligible to contract to provide assistance, or to accept certificates, vouchers, or other forms of disbursement.” The law is consistent with the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002), approving the use of vouchers for students who attend parochial schools. President George W. Bush continued to argue for the legitimacy of directing governmental aid through faith-based programs.

 

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