Tuesday, October 17, 2006

“Faith based” initiatives are counter to the intentions of the founding fathers

The Bush administration and the current Congress have tried through faith-based initiatives to create new legal precedents for advantages such as legal exemptions and tax breaks as well as to make religious groups eligible for numerous state and federal grants and contracts. This is a radical departure from the intentions of the founding fathers. It is not the business of the government of all the people to support up the religions of a few. Churches, synagogues, or mosques should stand or fall on their own. The state has no business propping them up.

Brooke Allen, the author of the just published "Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers," has a piece in today’s L.A. Times regarding the issue from the perspective of the founding fathers – specifically James Madison. He writes:
Supporters of the Bush initiative have vigorously denied that its programs
contradict the principles of church/state separation laid out in the
Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas)
has said that society "treats Christianity like a second-rate superstition," and
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) insists that "radical courts have
attempted to gut our religious freedom and redefine the value system on which
America was built."

The people who really did build this nation most definitely did not define
"religious freedom" as the right of churches or other religious groups to
benefit from taxpayer dollars. In fact, James Madison, the thinker who probably
contributed more than any other to the legal foundations of our nation and who
is frequently referred to as the father of the Constitution, was unambiguous on
the subject.

First of all, he thought the idea of a church — any church — acquiring
property and wealth to be directly contradictory to the principles of the
Constitution. In his "Detached Memoranda," a collection of private reflections,
Madison warned against "the danger of a direct mixture of Religion & civil
Government" as well as "an evil which ought to be guarded ag[ain]st in the
indefinite accumulation of property from the capacity of holding it in
perpetuity by ecclesiastical corporations…. Are the U.S. duly awake to the
tendency of the precedents they are establishing, in the multiplied
incorporations of Religious Congregations with the faculty of acquiring &
holding property real as well as personal?"

In 1811, President Madison vetoed two bills, one incorporating an Episcopal
church in the District of Columbia, the other reserving government land in the
Mississippi territory for a Baptist church. The published veto for the
Mississippi case states his position firmly: "Because the bill in reserving a
certain parcel of land of the United States for the use of said Baptist Church
comprises a principle and precedent for the appropriation of funds of the United
States for the use and support of religious societies, contrary to the article
of the Constitution which declares that 'Congress shall make no law respecting a
religious establishment' [sic]."

Here we have Madison's clear opinion that "the appropriation of funds of
the United States" — taxpayer dollars, to put it in today's parlance — to pay
"for the use and support of religious societies" goes against constitutional

Further, in a direct swipe at what people today would call faith-based
initiatives, Madison stated his objection even to governmental sanction and
support of a church's charitable activities. "Because the Bill vests in the said
incorporated Church," he said, "an authority to provide for the support of the
poor, and the education of poor children of the same; an authority, which being
altogether superfluous if the provision is to be the result of pious charity,
would be a precident [sic] for giving to religious Societies as such, a legal
agency in carrying into effect a public and civil duty."

He did not approve, in other words, of churches and religious societies
being given a "legal agency" (including taxpayer funds) to carry into effect "a
public and civil duty." The public weal is the responsibility of the government
itself, funded through taxation. Any charitable work churches might undertake is
"pious charity," and as such a voluntary act on the part of church

Supporters of the faith-based initiative point out, with justice, the many
wonderful charitable programs religious groups have provided, and some of them
accuse separationists of waging a war against religion. This distorts the
argument severely.

Separationists are not attacking religion. They are merely reminding us
that religion and church membership, under our Constitution, are defined as
voluntary — the general population cannot be compelled to underwrite any
particular church. That is what freedom of religion means.

1 comment:

Joel Monka said...

What you say is quite true, but not all the truth. The founding father also did not believe in allowing the federal government to tax citizens or businesses at all- it required a Constitutional amendment to make that possible. The founding fathers also did not believe in federal charitable programs, leaving such things totally to the states. When the first government charities were proposed there were long debates about the morality of taking money from a citizen at gunpoint just to give it to another citizen. James Madison would have been just as opposed to Welfare programs as to faith-based programs.