When I first heard that Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee cited church-state separation when vetoing a bill for Choose Life license plates, I rolled my eyes. Great, I thought, another politician who thinks "pro-life" and "religious" are synonyms. But when I looked into it further, I changed my mind.
Part of my confusion stemmed from the fact that I am from Florida, where funds from Choose Life plates go to Choose Life Florida, which then distributes the funds to qualified "pregnancy resource centers, maternity homes, or non-profit adoption agencies" within the state. According to Choose Life Florida, over 250 agencies qualify. Other states give to adoption programs only, give to a non-sectarian Right to Life group, or follow the Florida model.
But as it turns out, the Rhode Island legislation would have done something entirely different: the sole charity to receive funds from the Rhode Island Choose Life plates was Care Net, a Christian pregnancy resource center.
Faith-based charities can do some great things, no question. And I have nothing personal against Care Net. But singling out a religious charity for license plate fundraising help, when there are secular charities available to accomplish the same or similar goals, does indeed pose a church-state separation problem.
Right to Life of Rhode Island says that Governor Chafee is "hiding behind the separation of church and state." Perhaps he is. Perhaps he really just doesn't want his abortion industry donors to have too much competition from pro-life charities. Perhaps he is de facto opposed to choices other than abortion.
But the only way to know is to pass legislation that funds pregnancy support services broadly. Pro-life advocates in Rhode Island should try again, this time with a bill that distributes funds to qualifying charities without regard to religion.