Monday, November 22, 2010

Mostly Right

One of the editorials in today's New York Times came amazingly close to my views on "faith based initiatives." The editorial takes a look at President Obama's tweaking of his predecessor's program and finds it lacking, as well it is. Here's the most important reason:

But the revisions have a glaring omission. Ignoring one of Mr. Obama’s own important campaign promises, and a large coalition of religious, education and civil rights groups, the new decree fails to draw a firm line barring employment discrimination on the basis of religion. The order leaves untouched a 2007 Justice Department memo that dubiously concluded that the government cannot order religious groups not to discriminate as a condition of federal financing. That memo should have been withdrawn long ago by this administration.

But here is where I part company with the editorial:

What is needed is a careful constitutional balance. Groups running worthy social service programs should not be disqualified from receiving federal financing simply because they have a religious affiliation. But they should get no special exemption from antidiscrimination laws. Public money should not be used to underwrite discrimination.

I believe the wall separating church and state should be absolute. If the program is worthy, then it is probably addressing a need that should be handled by the government anyway. Rather than shoving off a government responsibility to provide a safety net for the poor or the unemployed or the homeless to churches, the government should take responsibility.

If a social service program has been developed by a church as an embodiment of its tenets to feed the poor or to care for the downtrodden, then it should go all the way and finance that program completely. If the members of the church are unable to pay for the program itself, they can always seek the assistance of private foundations, which most do.

Or, the church can do what mine has: it can provide the seed money and the space to get the program up and running, and then when it has proven its success, it can remove itself from the picture, allowing the new program to access sources of funding otherwise closed to it.

Still, the editorial does point out the most glaring flaw in federally funded faith-based initiatives: the fact that tax dollars are being used to fund religious discrimination. For that I am grateful.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home