"Faith-Based" Government Programs: A Deal with the Devil

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There is such a thing as freedom of association. You are a New York Giants fan, and you do not hang out with Philadelphia Eagles fans — at least on game day, during the game, unless you happen to be in a fight. The same goes for Mets and Phillies fans.

And by the way, it appears to be entirely legal for a New York Giants fan not to rent his apartment to an Eagles fan. Likewise for the Mets and Phillies.

Should the federal government outlaw this blatant geographic-origin discrimination?

With respect to sexual orientation, the government takes away your freedom. Because of the sensibilities of those with more votes, you are required to rent your apartment to persons of whose actions and lifestyle you might not approve.

And don’t even think of advertising your apartment for rent to “hard-working” or “Christian” people. No, that would discriminate against loafers and non-Christians.

Now, as part of President Bush’s “faith-based initiatives,” the Salvation Army asked the Bush administration for an exemption from federal forced association laws — “workplace laws” — in return for participation in the new federal government “faith-based” intitiatives.

Guess what? This caused a firestorm of egalitarian mania in Washington, DC. Sorry, the White House has said, private charities must ignore — well, their faiths — and toe the federal line.

As the Washington Post reports,

Even after the White House backed down late yesterday, Democratic leaders in the House said they would proceed with an investigation into whether the White House had agreed to allow the Salvation Army and other charities to discriminate against gays, in exchange for the Salvation Army’s support for the Bush faith-based initiative.

But what does it mean “to discriminate against gays?” Was the Salvation Army going to hunt down homosexuals, and ridicule them? No. As a religious organization, they simply wished to retain the right to practice their faith, which disapproves of homosexuality. Sorry, you’re not allowed to disapprove of anyone, let alone refuse to hire them.

Which brings me to two problems with President Bush’s “faith-based” initiatives. First, it is a deal with the Devil, namely, the Federal government — a massive, omnipotent tool of social engineering in the hands of the Left. If adopted, “faith-based” initiatives will open the door to the federally-mandated destruction of one of the few areas of civil society that works, namely, the private religious and charitable arena. Next stop — mandating female priests for Roman Catholics.

Second, although it is admirable of George Bush to discuss religion in the public square — a feat which was almost verboten under the tyrannical reign of the sleazy Clintons (despite the phony photo ops at Baptist churches seemingly every week) — Bush has gotten the relationship between religions and private charity on the one hand, and the government on the other hand, completely backwards.

Yes, private charities — “faith-based” organizations, in the current Federal jargon — do a better job of solving social problems, such as caring for the poor and the hungry.

It is, however, a mistake to therefore have the government enlist these private agencies to do the government’s work. This is the tail wagging the dog.

Recall that prior to the Leftist transformations of the government under FDR and LBJ, private charities did all the charitable work. And they did it well. The government entered the picture allegedly to “make things better.” And so there was a New Deal, a Fair Deal, a War on Poverty, a Great Society…and, predictably, there are more poor people than when the federal government’s snake oil sale started.

Why is that? The reason is that bureaucrats keep their jobs, and agencies keep their funding and their existence only if there are “problems” to be solved. They have no incentive to solve the problems they allegedly exist to “solve.”

On the other hand, a pastor of a church, who must pay for upkeep of the physical grounds, pay the salaries of workers, and minister to the needs of his flock — all on donations, rather than tax dollars, taken at gunpoint — has an incentive to spend wisely. He also has an incentive to genuinely help his parishioners get and keep their lives on the right track. He lives in the neighborhood. He presides at their weddings, baptisms, and funerals. In short, he knows them personally.

Of course, there are private charities which are not religious which do this as well. See A Guide to Effective Compassion, for example.

The idea that the federal government can better attempt to “solve” poverty by roping every private church and charity under federal control is completely misguided. Many churches ask their members to tithe — to donate 10% of their income. How many Americans already tithe five times over — to the government?

Rather than enact the President’s “faith-based” initiatives, the federal government should simply stop frustrating the ability of Americans to live out their faiths. If we want to do a better job of ministering to the poor, the hungry, and those in need, the federal government should stop taxing Americans so much — so that Americans can give their money to those who know how to use it wisely, and who have incentives to actually solve problems.

Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.

© 2001 David Dieteman

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