It’s called Charitable Choice, the brainchild of a University of Missouri law professor, and it has once again successfully navigated the turbulent waters of church and state.

President Obama has expanded Charitable Choice through executive order, extending a program began under President Clinton and now continuing through three administrations.

MU Law Professor Carl Esbeck believes the action demonstrates unity in an area which can be quite divisive.

“As you know, part of the story out of Washington is that everything is partisan and the two parties cannot get along, but this is a counter example,” Esbeck says.

Esbeck coined the term Charitable Choice for the stance that allows religious-based charities to compete for federal social funding. Clinton implemented it. Bush embraced it. Esbeck wasn’t sure how Obama would approach it.

“So, yes we were concerned at first, but over the two-year process we became less concerned and the contents of the most recent executive order, the one of November 17th, was not a big surprise to us,” according to Esbeck.

Charitable Choice outlines how religious-based charities can receive federal funding without violating the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment or interfering with the free exercise clause, also contained in the First Amendment. Esbeck says there are three elements to Charitable Choice. Religious charities can compete with secular charities for federal funding. Religious charities don’t have to give up their faith component if they receive federal funding. Those receiving services choose the charity.

Religious-based charities do have to keep their explicitly religious activities separate from services provided through federal funding. President Obama’s executive order actually puts in law the practices of the previous administrations. A detailed report on how to implement the executive order is due in February. Esbeck says he doesn’t expect any surprises from that report, but is interested in its contents.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:60 MP3]