The church and state debate

By Joseph Farah

As President Bush makes a new push for his so-called “faith-based” initiative, designed to make it easier for religious charities to obtain federal support, color me skeptical.

No, of course I don’t believe the main argument levied against the initiative – that the Constitution mandates “separation of church and state.” It does no such thing. There is no provision like that in the founding documents. The closest it comes is the First Amendment’s prohibition against the establishment of an official state church.

The reality, of course, is that the founders went so far as to allocate federal money for the publishing and distribution of Bibles. They believed the system of self-government they established would not work unless the citizens were a devout and moral group. They set aside national days of prayer and fasting. In fact, they established our entire system of law on the foundation laid by the Bible, especially the Book of Deuteronomy. Walk up to the U.S. Supreme Court building today and you will see a sculpture of Moses delivering the Ten Commandments.

So, not for a moment do I believe there is any impregnable wall separating church and state. That’s not what the founders had in mind.

However, they did believe that the state should not interfere in the church’s affairs.

What are the church’s affairs? Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, nursing the sick.

Government has exceeded its constitutional authority and largely usurped this vital role from the church. That’s neither to the church’s credit nor the government’s.

Now comes George W. Bush, who, with perhaps the best of intentions, says he wants to make sure religious charities are not discriminated against by government when goodies are being handed out by Washington.

Here’s the real problem I have with this thinking: The government has no business confiscating my wealth to give it to anyone else – religious or not.

Do you see how the debates get twisted in 2002 America in a way that keeps everyone off balance? Do you see how it is nearly impossible to have an intelligent discussion about the real issues because of all the phony ones that are thrown out there by government and its sycophants in the Big Media?

Whose job is it to feed the hungry? It’s the church’s job. And the church is failing miserably. But it wasn’t always this way. In the 19th century, as Marvin Olasky documents in his “The Tragedy of American Compassion,” the church did an admirable job in taking care of the poor and the sick and the widows. As government stepped in, the church abdicated its responsibility and stepped out.

“Our government should not fear faith in our society,” Bush said in a speech in July. “The federal government should not ask, ‘Does your organization believe in God?’ That’s not the question they ought to ask. They ought to ask, ‘Does your program work? Are you saving lives? Are you making a difference in people’s lives?'”

In other words, Bush thinks programs that are working under the guidance of faith-based sponsors will work even better with some federal funding behind them. Not true. Government money always comes with strings attached. Government money corrupts, and more government money corrupts more. A successful faith-based program could be totally subverted by the regulations attached by Washington. It’s the nature of the beast.

The object should not be to get government more involved in church charity. The object should be to get the church to take over the misguided, illegal, unworkable pseudo-charities being run by the government.

While this seems so obvious to me, I feel like I am nearly alone in the world in voicing this opinion. Even the church leaders I respect the most don’t seem to get it. They are falling prey to Bush’s seduction of their votes. They truly believe the government can and should help the less fortunate if only the right people are running the programs.

Statism is statism, no matter who’s calling the shots. Socialism is socialism, no matter who is in charge. Unlike other critics of Bush’s faith-based initiative, I don’t fear that government money will be corrupted by association with the church. My fear is the church will become corrupted by its association with government money forcibly extracted from U.S. taxpayers.

It’s wrong. It’s immoral. It’s un-American.