Ask Minister Louis Farrakhan, and he’ll say I was created by a mad scientist
named Yakub, just like every other white devil. A lab mistake! But help is on
the way, says Farrakhan. A Mother Ship is up there, hovering just above the
clouds, ready to drop down and topple the white government and turn the keys
to the White House over to the Nation of Islam.

Ask someone like Minister Jay Merrell of the Phineas Priesthood, now serving
time for bank robbery and pipe-bombing a Planned Parenthood clinic, and it’s
a wholly different creation story. Here I’m part of the lost tribe of Israel
and inherently of better quality than Jews, blacks and other non-whites and
non-Christians, collectively referred to as the “mud people.” Here, too, help
is on the way from just above the clouds, ready to drop down so people of my
birthright can enjoy an everlasting and non-muddy hegemony.

Here’s the question: Under George W. Bush’s new White House Office of
Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, should either of the aforementioned
get federal tax dollars, say, to fight crime or run a drug program?

As it’s turned out, we’re already on our way with the Clinton
administration’s award of some $15 million to the Nation of Islam to police
housing projects in D.C. and eight other cities. It didn’t matter what
Minister Farrakhan said about Jews controlling major sports figures and
running Hollywood, or about Jews operating the slave trade and loaning money
to Hitler, or about the crazy scientist and the pulsating Mother Ship. Just
so the job got done. And it did get done, says Rep. Charles Rangel: “By every
criteria, the Nation of Islam did a fantastic job.”

And the money, it appears, will keep pouring Farrakhan’s way, based on what
the Bush team told the New York Times: “Any religious group, including
controversial organizations like the Church of Scientology and the Nation of
Islam” will be allowed “to compete for government money if their social
services programs had proven results.”

The Phineas Priesthood, too, if they put together a good soup kitchen and lay off the pipe-bombings?

Who decides? Coming off a history of religious warfare and persecution that
had bloodied up Europe for centuries, the United States was founded on a set
of principles that aimed at replacing the old model of established state
churches and religious intolerance with a pluralism that celebrated diversity
and the right of individual conscience. And so, now, given this national ethos
of religious freedom, who in Washington is going to decide if the Nation of
Islam, on its spiritual side, is too pervaded by anti-Semitism and too
anti-white and if the Phineas Priesthood is too anti-black?

Here’s how Wendy Kaminer of Radcliffe College stated the dilemma on PBS:
“Government bureaucrats will be talking about the difference between
legitimate and illegitimate religions. That’s very dangerous.” Adds Jewish
World Review
columnist Nat Hentoff, “It is dangerous because it violates the
free exercise of religion clause of the First Amendment.”

The idea at the White House is that we can separate the religion from the
social work, and publicly fund only the latter. The government “cannot and
will not fund religious activities,” explained President Bush, only the
“social service side” of an operation. Or as former Indianapolis mayor
Stephen Goldsmith put it, speaking for the administration: “The government
can fund the soup, it can fund the shelter, but it can’t fund the Bibles.”

For others, the disconnection isn’t so easy. “Money is fungible,” says
Hentoff. “Before government funds arrive, money already budgeted for the soup
kitchen can be freed for a purely sectarian purpose. Is there going to be
pervasive government auditing to check for the misuse of government funds?”

More than that, why should we even expect politicians to be interested in
running tough audits when a more free-wheeling approach to handing out
government money can buy more votes in the next election? Why defund the
Nation of Islam while you’re seeking to broaden the party’s African-American

None of this is to deny that faith-based groups can play a vital role in
social service strategy, or to deny that these organizations are struggling
with virtually unlimited problems and insufficient resources. The problem is
about funding and control, both for taxpayers who aren’t in accord with
certain religious beliefs and for churches that value their autonomy.

Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee, poses a key
question: “How can religion raise a prophet’s fist against government when
its other hand is open for a handout?”

Columnist George Will, too, warns of
the “creeping secularization and politicization of religious organizations,”
pointing to the time that the Department of Housing and Urban Development
asked the Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles to change the name of the St.
Vincent de Paul Shelter to the Mr. Vincent de Paul Shelter.

The solution, it seems, is to skip the central plan and simply boost the
incentives in the tax code for charitable giving so that the same amount of
money will flow to the soup kitchens and alcohol programs as is now planned
for the White House operation — only with more local control, less politics
and more individual attachment.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.