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Is President Bush’s creation of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiative a step in the right direction?

Bush believes, rightly, that churches, synagogues and community organizations — particularly those that emphasize virtue and faith as components of helping individuals improve their lives — are more effective than traditional government programs.

His solution, however, a continuation of the policy of forced transfer of wealth, can never achieve truly compassionate results. More importantly, it is as unconstitutional as the central planning-style anti-poverty programs of the “New Deal” and “Great Society.”

In making his announcement, Bush said, “Government will never be replaced by charities and community groups. Yet when we see social needs in America, my administration will look first to faith-based programs. … We will not discriminate against them.”

It is true that charities and community groups will never replace government. Churches will never be able to produce an anti-missile shield to protect Americans from inevitable threats from hostile foreign powers and rogue, terrorist nation-states. But, when it comes to answering individual social needs, churches and charities ought to be the frontlines — the first option after family.

The federal government is simply not authorized by the Constitution to be involved. Promoting the individual welfare of poor and disadvantaged people is not among the enumerated powers. It just isn’t there.

“But, Farah,” you might say, “isn’t this a step in the right direction? Isn’t this a good interim move? Isn’t it high time we at least began to recognize the effectiveness of churches and religious institutions in meeting the needs of those less fortunate?”

It may prove to be a step in the right direction, but I remain cautious, wary and skeptical of any new government bureaucracy — especially one designed specifically to accomplish a goal not among the enumerated powers.

This is certainly not where I would start. A much better starting point would be the elimination of the illegal income tax, or, at least, a radical reduction in rates, or, perhaps, a flat tax that would free up a tremendous amount of capital for charitable purposes.

The trouble with Bush’s initiative is that “forced compassion” is an oxymoron. There is nothing compassionate about forcibly taking money from one person and giving some of it to another less fortunate person. Compassion is always, by definition, voluntary.

There’s another problem with Bush’s solution. Government grants always come with strings attached.

What form will those strings take in this Bush initiative? How will they restrict the good works of faith-based organizations? How will they tempt them? How will those groups change their philosophy when facing incentives in the form of big government checks?

If Bush listens to his “compassionate conservative” guru, Marvin Olasky, he will learn that the churches and charities of 100 years ago really did most of the social work government now attempts to perform — and they did it far more effectively in America.

Somehow government hijacked the mission of churches and social welfare organizations in the last century. Some might argue that Bush’s initiative might be a good first step backward — one that empowers the groups best able to help people in need.

I would suggest a better first step would be for the federal government not to collect the money in the first place.

I guess you could call me a dreamer — a utopian. That might be true, except my dream was a reality in America for 100 years. The real dreamers, the real utopians, are those who keep on pretending that if the federal government only redistributes a little more wealth that poverty will somehow be eradicated.

Socialism has never worked — never-ever, nowhere, not here or anywhere else. And, ultimately, that is what all wealth-redistribution schemes represent — socialism.

The government simply does not have the right — morally or legally — to take what you earn from your hard work, keep a finder’s fee and pass on what’s left to others, whether they wear clerical garb or not.

I’m gratified we have a president who recognizes that churches and synagogues are better equipped to meet individual social needs. But the way to empower them is to cut or eliminate income taxes. The collection baskets will overflow, allowing the faith-based institutions to rediscover their traditional role in offering compassionate aid to those in need.

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