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Faith, hope and charity don't need government support



Published: Sat, July 7, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Even as people on both the left and right sides of the political spectrum are expressing reservations about channeling federal funds to "faith-based" charities, President Bush continues to promote the idea.

Incredibly, he used the Fourth of July as an occasion to make his case, stating that if the signers of the Declaration of Independence were alive they would be pleased to see religious institutions feeding the hungry, treating the addicted and giving love to alienated children.

A step too far: We have no doubt that the Founders by and large would be pleased to see that churches are prospering in the United States and that they are doing good works. But we are not inclined to think that the Founders would take the step that President Bush would take, and that is to directly subsidize not just the good deeds that those churches perform, but the specific religious message that they espouse.

We will go so far as to say that most of the Founding Fathers would be horrified by the idea of spending government money to propagate religion. The president's plan would remove the barriers that have been erected to keep a church from using government money to promote its religious ideals.

There is nothing today that precludes a church, synagogue or mosque from applying for government funds to support good works among the poor, the oppressed, the disenfranchised and the neglected. But they must maintain a line between providing help and providing religious instruction.

Example of abuse: A perfect example of what shouldn't happen can be taken right from Texas, where then-Gov. Bush pushed his faith-based initiative. One church used state money to buy thousands of Bibles to use in the counseling of substance abusers. That is not a use of government funds that the Founding Fathers would endorse.

Law, secular writings and scripture all give voice to why there shouldn't be unregulated government support of faith-based charities. The First Amendment prohibits government establishment of religion. Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, also wrote of the need for a wall of separation between church and state. And in the New Testament, Christ advised his followers to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and to God that which is God's.

It seems to us that there is substantial authority for avoiding the kind of unnecessary church-state entanglements that the president's faith-based funding would inevitably produce.

If the president had been interested in increasing charitable works in the nation, he should have fought harder to preserve changes in the tax code that would have encouraged donations to churches and other tax-exempt institutions. He allowed that proposal to die before its time; the faith-based idea has outlived its usefulness.




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