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Federal funding of faith-based groups bad policy

As I See It

The United States has long struggled with the proper relationship between government and religion. Americans are known for their embrace of the spiritual, the

material, and more often than not, both.

Finding a balance between these extremes, determining how porous the wall between church and state should be, is a challenge for the faithful and the not-so-faithful.

At a time when opinion polls indicate a historic high level of interest in religion and spirituality, the two major party candidates running for President have declared that

federal funding for certain faith-based organizations is part of their approach to solving America’s social problems. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Surely no one could oppose federal dollars being paid to our churches, synagogues and mosques, could they?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Organizations receiving federal funding become “federalized” and tend to lose independence and effectiveness. Their primary focus becomes lobbying Congress to

keep the dollars flowing. And in exchange for being on the federal dole, they dance to whatever tune Congress is singing at the moment.

Most would likely agree that the anti-poverty programs of LBJ’s so-called Great Society failed miserably. Some would even say that they made the situation worse. In

fact, arguments could be made that the situation worsened in direct proportion to the amount of federal funding received. This is not encouraging when consideration is

being given to federalizing our nation’s churches and synagogues.

Let’s look for a moment at the record of the Great Society partnerships formed with existing secular non-profit organizations.

The “pre-federal government” success of these programs made them attractive vehicles for implementing the nation’s new antipoverty initiatives. The Johnson

Administration jumped on them with both feet. Now these secular non-profits have become dependent on federal funds for their very survival, and they have become

sophisticated Beltway lobbyists against efforts to cut back federal grant programs. As these are the organizations being criticized as ineffective federal poverty

programs by both the Bush and Gore campaigns, it does not stagger the imagination to believe that churches and synagogues could follow the same path to

ineffectiveness. All it takes is a little federal meddling here and there to put a great organization on the road to destruction.

Some say that we have learned our lesson and would take a hands-off approach in federally funding faith-based organizations. We would not tinker with the motor,

but rather fuel the engine to higher performance through the largess of the federal government. We would place no restrictions nor insist on any internal policy changes

within these organizations since they are working well as they are.

Does any thinking person over the age of 15 really believe that? I hope not!

In his failed bid for the presidency, Republican Steve Forbes compared the Congress to bears and the public purse to a pot of honey. According to Forbes, the bears

couldn’t resist sticking their paws in the honey because they are bears and that is what bears do. Can you imagine that the “bears” could resist the temptation to stick

their paws into the regulatory pot by setting bold, new, federally-approved policies for our faith-based organizations?

I doubt that you can.

Does this mean that I oppose federal funding for our faith-based organizations? Yes. Does it mean that I am opposed to faith-based organizations?

No. In fact, in opposing federal meddling in the affairs of our churches and synagogues, I may be the strongest supporter they have. I believe they are doing just fine

now and can see nothing but ineffectiveness rearing its ugly head up with the prospect of trading their independence for a slice of the federal pie.

Of the two, Bush’s plan is the lesser of the evils. He would “proclaim” opposition to meddling in the faith-based organizations’ policies, though I doubt he could

restrain a regulation-crazed Congress from dipping their paws in.

On the other hand, Gore’s plan should serve as a wakeup call for all Americans. He is committed to extending the highly-successful Great Society programs to

religious organizations and thereby reclaim God for his party using public funds. This may be a good plan for Gore, but it is a bad plan for America.

It amazes me that Al Gore has the audacity to proclaim his heart-felt support for faith-based organizations in light of his total charitable contributions of some $353 on

an income of $197,729.

Instead of putting your money where your mouth is, he wants to put our money where his mouth is!

Thought for the Moment

Jesus said to them,”then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

— Luke 20:25

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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