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.

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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