In a variety of international settings, I have seen religious groups, with support from the U.S. government, engaged in AIDS treatment, fistula repair, malaria control, and the promotion of child and maternal health. Ram Cnaan of the University of Pennsylvania has documented the domestic role of “sacred places that serve civic purposes” — homeless shelters, food banks, health care, welfare-to-work, prisoner re-entry programs. Cnaan estimates the “replacement value” — the cost to government agencies of assuming these roles — to be about $140,000 each year for the typical community-serving religious institution…

Much of this good work — and similar work across the country — is now threatened. If federal policies make it impossible for religious nonprofits and hospitals to work in conjunction with federal, state and local agencies in providing social services, millions of poor and vulnerable Americans — Catholic and non-Catholic, religious and nonreligious — would suffer. The task of building alternatives would cost hundreds of billions of dollars — and then lack the distinctive human touch provided by religious groups.