Groups Should Be Wary of Government Money
by J. H. Huebert
February 2, 2001
Except for killing people and breaking
things, the federal government fails at almost everything it tries to
do, and that definitely includes helping the poor.
President Bush seems to have at least partially caught on to this fact,
so he’s formed an "Office of Faith-Based and Community
Initiatives" to look into turning over some government welfare
services, along with billions of dollars in federal money, to private
groups, like churches and charities.
That sounds like a good idea. Churches and private charities did a fine
job of helping the poor and infirm through most of United States
history, when there were no federal welfare or social security programs.
Besides, the federal government is remote and impersonal--local
organizations would know better how to help the needy in their
But there are reasons why we should think twice before mixing government
money and religious organizations--and they’re not what you might
Of course, many on the left are worried that such a program would blur
the lines between church and state too much, but Stephen Goldsmith, who
will help oversee Bush’s program, assures: "[Federal money] can
fund the soup, it can fund the shelter; it shouldn’t fund the
Bibles." So the plan is to narrowly target the federal money toward
Will that be so easy? For one, don’t many faith-based charities
consider their secular and sacred functions to be intertwined? How could
they be separated? In order to maintain separation, would workers be
prohibited from speaking about their faith while engaged in a publicly
funded secular function? Is it worth taking federal money at that cost?
But even if this difficulty could be overcome, there’s another
problem: When government pays out money, it wants control. In fact,
lawmakers are already preparing to impose their will on recipient
institutions. Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas) says, "I don’t want Bob
Jones University to be able to take federal dollars for an alcoholic
treatment program and put out a sign that says no Catholics or Jews need
apply here for a federally funded job."
Do we want Christian groups to be forced to hire Hindus, atheists,
homosexuals, or others with contrary beliefs? If not, we should question
the wisdom of giving them federal money.
You might suggest that the Bush administration wouldn’t attach many
strings, so regulation wouldn’t be a big problem. That could be. But
someday, sad to say, there will probably be another left-wing Democrat
regime in the White House. When that time comes, and the new
administration demands that faith-based organizations meet a new host of
conditions that may undermine some of their fundamental beliefs and
religious activities, will those organizations be willing and able to
give up the money to preserve their integrity--especially if private
donations aren’t coming in like they used to? History shows that, once
addicted to public money, most private institutions, however well
intentioned, will do almost anything to keep their funding.
Eventually, these organizations could become so bogged down in
regulations, and so stripped of their ability to carry on their original
religious activities, that they wouldn’t be much better than or
different from the original government apparatus that they replaced. If
that happened, the long-term effect of Bush’s program would be the
federalization and secularization of religious institutions.
The federal government should get out of the welfare business--all the
way out. Until it does, churches and charities should resist the
temptation of federal dollars and protect the integrity and independence
that make them so good at what they do.
© 2001 J. H. Huebert