Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


[Photo courtesy Bro d’Elisson.]

A recent posting I saw on Facebook alerted me to a change in government policies as they affect federal support of faith-based charity initiatives.

According to Travis Sanford of the Courthouse News Service,
Faith-based organizations may no longer conduct worship services or proselytize while providing social programs funded with federal money. President Obama has amended a 2002 Executive Order from President George W. Bush that allowed faith-based social programs to get federal aid.
I don’t agree with our Fearless Leader on many things, but this is one thing he has gotten absolutely right. When Bush the Younger allowed faith-based social programs to receive social aid, he opened a whole can of worms with respect to the disposition of government monies and its possible conflict with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. To wit:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...
Simply put, the government cannot enact laws that favor a particular religion, or that create a state religion. It also cannot create laws that keep people from practicing their faith(s), whatever they happen to be.

When money is involved, that’s where things begin to get sticky.

If a church runs a soup kitchen in order to feed the hungry, most of us will agree that that’s a Good Thing. And if they wish the recipients of their Foodly Largesse to hear a bit of the Good Word whilst supping on the free eats, why, who would begrudge them that privilege?

The problem comes in when the soup kitchen is being run with government funds. Because the government has no real business getting involved in the Religion Business, allowing the good people at the soup kitchen to bend the ear of their indigent guests is no longer permissible. Bush the Younger, alas, did not understand that a Constitutional issue was involved; Obama does.

As my good friend Houston Steve so eloquently puts it,
Regarding your comments on the Executive Order preventing proselytizing at soup kitchens, I am reminded that when one gives a gift expecting something in return, it is not a gift at all. So if those running the kitchen think their patrons are somehow obligated to listen to their version of the Truth, then it’s not really a gift to the hungry at all, is it? It is, in fact, a recruiting station... for which I do not choose to pay.
It’s that old Double-Edged Sword: If you accept money from the government, then you are obliged to follow their rules... and like it or not, their rules will necessarily be at odds with the dictates of your particular religious denomination, because the government cannot play favorites.

The solution is simple. Either take the government money, use it to operate your soup kitchen, and separate the sermon delivery from the food service (you can still sermonize, just not in the same place and time) - or, use your own funds and sermonize as you see fit.

What is most amusing to me is the sheer amount of vitriol this executive order has generated - all of it completely unjustified - towards President Obama. Here’s an example:

“Those who do not wish to hear prayers or sermons while eating FREE food given with Love in HIS MOST HOLY NAME can eat at the freakin’ Mosque.”

“Those who don’t want the prayers with the food... let em’ starve, and beg the Obummer for a hand out.”

“And we’re supposed to still believe he’s a Christian...”

Regarding the first two comments above, I refer you to Houston Steve: When one gives a gift expecting something in return - even something as trivial as your respectful attention to a sermon or to prayers - it is not a gift at all. It is, in fact, akin to those deals where you get a free weekend at a resort in exchange for listening to a high-pressure 90-minute sales pitch for a time-share. It is a business deal, plain and simple: quid pro quo.

There is nothing wrong with requiring the hungry to hear prayers or sermons as a condition of being fed... provided taxpayer money is not involved. Just don’t confuse it with charity, because that’s no longer what it is.

“Let ’em starve.”  Now, there’s a charitable sentiment for you.

With respect to the third comment, there is nothing un-Christian about Obama’s executive order. Isn’t Jesus the one who said, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” in Matthew 22:21? It’s a verse subject to many interpretations, but one of them is that spiritual authority should maintain its independence from temporal authority... and that fits hand-in-glove with the First Amendment.

[Maybe the commenter is simply one of those wingnuts that continue to believe Obama is some sort of Sooper-Seekrit Towelhead. Look: He may be a tad arrogant; he may be incompetent to conduct our nation’s foreign policy; and he may have overreached with respect to his health care initiative, but a Muslim he is not. How could a Muslim have sat in church and absorbed twenty years’ worth of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s vitriolic claptrap? You can’t have it both ways.]

Just remember, folks: If you let your religion get involved with the government, sooner or later the government is going to get involved with your religion... and you will not like it.


GUYK said...

"The problem comes in when the soup kitchen is being run with government funds. Because the government has no real business getting involved in the Religion Business, allowing the good people at the soup kitchen to bend the ear of their indigent guests is no longer permissible."

Question is, " Does the government have any business in the soup kitchen at all?"

Elisson said...

Good question, GuyK... and my answer would be, "To the extent that the public wishes it to be." Social programs like AFDC, unemployment insurance, et alia., are all "soup kitchen" programs to a greater or lesser extent. There is nothing in our Constitution that forbids the government from getting into the Soup Kitchen business - only the good sense of the country's citizenry (such as it is). However, there is something in the Constitution that requires government to keep its hands off of Matters Religious.

Pammy said...

I thought the exact same thing when I read this...except you said it FAR more eloquently than I ever could.

BobG said...

Excellent post.

Anonymous said...

.... well said, sir....