Shortly after his inauguration, President George W. Bush signed an executive order establishing a new White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Princeton professor John DiIulio has been appointed to head the new office.
The thrust of Bush’s proposals is to allow faith-based organizations to compete equally with secular organizations for government grants. Bush stated, “We will not fund the religious activities of any group, but when people of faith provide social services, we will not discriminate against them.”
It was a bold challenge to the deeply entrenched system of religious apartheid in America. The so-called Rev. Barry Lynn, who is always available to attack religion every time it shows its face in public, characterized the initiative as “the single greatest assault on church-state separation in modern American history.”
Phil Baum, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, said he was deeply troubled. He argued that “What it does is interject religion in the affairs of government, and government into the affairs of religion.”
The program has also been criticized by religious supporters of Bush. Pat Robertson, head of the Christian Coalition, has serious doubts about the ability of the government to exclude religious fringe groups. And well-known evangelist Jerry Falwell hopes the program will be a success, but said his privately funded charities will not participate.
These two conservative religious leaders and many others worry about the intrusive and corrupting influence of government on religious institutions. There is no better illustration of it than what happened to Catholic Charities in San Francisco.
Several years ago, I reported that the elected leaders of San Francisco had passed a law requiring any company or contractor who does business with the city to provide the same health benefits to domestic partners that they provide to married couples. Over 8,000 businesses and other groups were affected, including Catholic Charities, whose activities are partially financed by the city.
Archbishop William Levada protested that the law required the church to support something Catholics find objectionable. However, he offered a compromise. Catholic Charities would agree to grant health coverage to “one other person” in a household, if the city would drop its specification of “domestic partners.”
The archbishop used a crass legalism to avoid the appearance of subsidizing homosexuality. He succeeded in expanding the city’s program to include not only homosexual partners, but unmarried heterosexual partners as well. He signed on to equal opportunity sinning.
Despite the real and imaginary problems associated with President Bush’s proposal, I strongly favor its implementation, the sooner the better. Here is my reasoning:
For more than 150 years following the adoption of the Constitution, American children and teachers prayed in public schools, politicians and judges spoke openly about God as they performed their jobs, and the editorial pages of major newspapers were full of biblical references and acknowledgments of the Creator. This followed a pattern clearly evident in the founding documents, the inaugural addresses of presidents, history texts and campaign oratory.
America was never in danger of becoming a theocracy. Americans can’t even agree on an official language. How realistic is it to fear that they could agree on an official religion?
Nevertheless, beginning in the 1960s, the Supreme Court began the process of erecting a legal wall, designed to isolate the governing institutions and the people of America from the influence of religion. This had very little to do with the Constitution; it had a great deal to do with liberal ideology and libertine values.
The founders never contemplated that their words would be perverted to justify treating religion like a communicable disease. Nowhere in the Constitution is to be found the phrase, “separation of church and state.” George Washington, in his famous Farewell Address, made it resoundingly clear: ” … reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” Does this sound like someone who thinks religion is a threat to the nation?
President John Adams put it this way: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.” Does this sound like someone who thinks religion and state should have a wall between them?
The larger view is this: The unconstitutional excommunication of religion from the mainstream of American life has resulted in breakdowns of order, justice and civility, and breakouts of violence, vulgarity, moral rot, political corruption and human depravity.
In the words of the beloved Ronald Reagan, it is time to “tear down that wall.”