In God we sorta trust

Whenever I hear a politician blessing America or promoting faith-based social services, I thank God, or whomever, that we have the First Amendment.

Those in favor of President George W. Bush’s attempts to funnel federal tax dollars into church groups say it makes sense because pastors and their religious organizations have strong connections to their communities. On the other side, that touchy subject of separation of church and state is cited, and people are concerned about using federal dollars to further religious ends. Amen.

Our government spends a ton of money on social programs to raise up disadvantaged communities, divert kids from gangs and drugs, etc. How well are we doing? Well, clearly there’s always room for improvement—so, why not try religious groups? For an example of one struggling program that may be worthy of consideration for such funds, see our cover story (“Praying for recovery”).

Fortunately, the First Amendment states that we should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” My reading of that is that the government cannot prohibit a religion, but it also can’t aid a religion.

Now, federal funds may go to religious groups as long as those funds are not used for religious worship or conversion. The Bushies say the money will be used to provide services, not scriptures. But the government does fund religion when it funds a church-based program, because it frees up more church funds to buy scriptures.

Beyond that, it’s not possible for groups to turn off the religious element of what they are doing when a federal dollar floats by and then turn the spiritual aspect back on when it is a voluntarily contributed dollar. So, in most cases, giving tax dollars to religious groups does promote and foster religion, violating the First Amendment. And, in the process, those funds promote the spiritual message and the biases of the recipients.

Bush has allowed recipients to hire persons to run taxpayer-funded programs solely on the basis of their religious affiliation or beliefs. This means that a priest can refuse to hire a pregnant, single mother and that a fundamentalist Christian church can tell applicants that atheists need not apply.

I think it may be better to praise the work than to pay for it.