Robert Knight

Should the federal government tempt people to cease volunteering at churches and instead be paid to “volunteer” at government-subsidized projects?

That’s the essence of the “Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act” which President Obama signed into law on April 21. 

Sponsored by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), the bill passed the House by a vote of 275 to 149. The multi-billion-dollar spending bill triples the size of federal paid “volunteer” programs including AmeriCorps while killing funds for the faith-friendly Points of Light Institute. The ayes list had 26 Republicans, including Mark Souder (Ind.), Chris Smith (N.J.) and Vern Buchanan (Fla.).

The Senate approved the bill on March 26 by a vote of 78-20. That version was sponsored by Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and 30 others, including Republicans Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Judd Gregg (N.H.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Olympia Snowe (Me.).

President Obama, whose constituent groups such as ACORN stand to benefit handsomely, hailed the bill’s passage, saying, “While our government can provide every opportunity imaginable for us to serve our communities, it is up to each of us to seize those opportunities.”

“Seize” is right. One of the first of many fraud charges leveled at ACORN was misuse of a $1.1 million grant from AmeriCorps in 1994 to strong-arm low-income people into joining ACORN in Dallas and other cities.

The bill will fund 250,000 paid “volunteers” with a budget of $5.7 billion over five years and $10 billion over 10 years. That’s a lot of tax money to be spent bribing people away from actual volunteerism and into government-paid work. At the same time, President Obama is seeking to cut tax deductions for charitable giving by wealthy Americans. The combination could transform America, and not for the good.

Generosity has been a hallmark of American character. It’s a product of the nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage, and it’s the polar opposite of cold, contractual transfers that characterize socialism. In fact, socialism is so ugly in practice that it has to destroy its competitor, private charity, hence the proposed assault on charitable tax deductions.

Some of the largest secular groups in America such as the AARP enthusiastically supported the Kennedy Act boondoggle. They stand to gain paid “volunteers” at the expense of smaller competitors, such as churches.

Robert Knight

Robert Knight is an author, senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a frequent contributor to Townhall.