When the government injects itself, and public money, into matters of faith, only bad things can happen. When money comes with strings (or in the government's case, ropes) attached, the best wisdom is to turn it down. Losing control of one's motives and one's work is a high price to pay for a bundle of public cash. Given the choice of having my church's soup kitchen cease operations or be forced to accept government funding to survive, I would choose the former. You cannot separate money, mission, and motivation.
Presidents Obama and Bush are both wrong. Public funding of “faith-based initiatives” is a terrible idea, fraught with ugly ramifications. Not for constitutional reasons, but for practical ones. Once a ministry accepts government money, it soon loses control of its destiny, its base of donors and volunteers, and its very reason for existence in the first place: as an expression of faith.
A coalition of humanist, religious, civil rights and labor groups signed a letter this week to US Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to revoke a 2007 Office of Legal Counsel memo asserting that faith-based organizations receiving tax-payer money have the right to practice employment discrimination on religious grounds. Of course, the letter included a criticism of President Bush's position in allowing faith-based groups to hire only those who share their own same faith motivation for doing the work among the poor or the hurting
When President Bush picked up President Clinton's fledgling idea of “faith-based initiatives,” he made a large, if well-intentioned, mistake. When President Obama announced during the campaign, and then began to implement once he was inaugurated, his plans to expand Bush's initiative and revise it, he added fertilizer and steroids to an idea that never should have seen the light of day.
Government funding inevitably leads to the juncture represented in this letter to Attorney General Holder, a letter signed by an strange amalgam of alphabet organizations like the AFL-CIO, the ACLU, the NAACP, NOW, and the NGLTF. Such groups insist that it is wrong for ministries funded in part by public monies to hire only persons sharing the faith of the organization that birthed and created the ministry in the first place. They may or may not be right, but their letter misses the point.
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