Coerced compassion

By Charles Bloomer
web posted February 5, 2001

Dubya making his faith-based charities announcement
Dubya making his faith-based charities announcement

President Bush last week unveiled his "ideas and proposals" that would expand the availability of federal funds to faith-based charities. The president said his proposals would "make sure that funding is available to faith-based programs on an equal basis with non-religious alternatives". The proposals received praise from religious charity groups and criticism from groups that espouse a wall between church and state.

There is no question that charities sponsored by religious groups perform many functions of benefit to the needy. Some of the largest, most responsive charities in the country are "faith-based". These organizations provide a wide range of services, from soup kitchens and prison ministries to homeless shelters and shelters for battered women.

Lost in the praise of this initiative is a question that needs to be answered: What role should the federal government, or government at any level, have in the charity business? The answer is "none". This is not a matter of separation of church and state, but rather a matter of the proper role of government and the legitimate use of our tax dollars.

Government is not compassionate. Government is about power, about force or the threat of force to obtain its ends. The government forcibly takes our money in the form of taxes. To spend that money on unconstitutional or illegitimate functions smells suspiciously of tyranny. Trying to sugar-coat the issue by describing it as "compassionate" or "charitable" does not eliminate the wrongfulness of the issue.

In addition, government is not efficient. Private charities have traditionally done more with their money than government has. Adding another layer of expensive bureaucracy is a waste of the money that would otherwise go to actually helping those in need. Adding a gaggle of government bureaucrats to the system will make it more expensive, less efficient, and more cumbersome.

The addition of a government layer in the funding of faith-based charities also brings the real threat of government interference with the functioning of the charity. To believe that the federal government will provide money without conditions is naïve.

What the president's proposal does is to bring into the domain of government dependency the previously independent charities run by religious groups. This certainly appears to be a case of theft out of the liberal playbook - make more people dependent on government subsidies and those people will vote to keep you in power. Conservatives have evidently concluded that one of the reasons they do poorly in elections is because there are not enough people or groups with a direct, tangible financial stake in the re-election of conservative candidates. Now these groups will be motivated to keep sympathetic legislators in office to ensure a steady stream of government revenue. Instead of encouraging people to be less dependent on government largesse, the new administration seems to be inviting a new group to feed from the public trough.

Rather than expand government's role in welfare and charity, a better solution would be to get government out of social services altogether. The federal government should do away with cabinet level departments such as Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Surgeon General, and the other myriad services that perpetuate the dependency on government. The president should send these functions back to the states and to the people. The money saved by eliminating these departments and their functions should be returned directly to the taxpayers in the form of tax cuts. If the states want to fund social services, that should be between the states and their citizens. If the people would rather decide on their own which charities to support, that should be their choice.

The American people are now, and always have been, among the most generous, most charitable people in the world. Americans are fully capable of making their own decisions regarding the charities they support and fund. There is no need for the federal government to insert itself into the relationship between people and charity. Charity is a personal decision, best made in the privacy of one's own home. Forced, compulsory charity is neither charitable nor compassionate.

There is nothing compassionate about the government's forcibly taking money from those who earn it and then redistributing it to those who don't.

(c) 2001 Charles Bloomer. Charles Bloomer is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right. He can be contacted at clbloomer@enterstageright.com.

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