Note: Originally published as a guest editorial in my hometown newspaper, July 2001
My husband and I discussed faith‑based initiatives often since President Bush raised the issue. Our neighbors might call it arguing. What they may not understand is that if one cannot not discuss an issue with passion (a.k.a. volume), it isn't worth discussing in the first place.
It's not that we're on opposite sides of the issue. We're much closer than that. I'm foursquare against it. Separating church from state is good for religious freedom, and even better for the rest of the freedoms we hold dear. I’m not anti religious, I’m anti moral superiority. He is, or more accurately was, neutral on the question. He believed it could be a good thing if handled correctly. Religious institutions can be closer to the people who need services.
The sticky little issue . . . permission to discriminate. In brief, the Salvation Army wants to discriminate against gays and lesbians, usurping the power of those states and the scores of cities that have domestic partner rights and sexual orientation clauses in their anti-discrimination laws.
Churches already have an exemption that allows them to choose employees based on religion. Now supporters of faith‑based social services want to go further. They want to revise an Office of Management and Budget regulation to say that religious charities do not have to provide benefits that are incompatible with their beliefs.
They propose an end‑run around "we the people." If that isn't smarmy enough, it looks like the White House enthusiastically agreed that "this approach would be a better alternative than the legislative process, which is more time‑consuming and more visible."
Yeah, that pesky legislative process set up by Jefferson, Madison and the other framers of our liberty so that "we the people" could make rules ensuring that neither government nor organized religion overly control us. Apparently, the White House and the Salvation Army would rather use slight of hand to accomplish what they could not win in a national debate. This is back door politics at its absolute worst and it stinks worse than day‑old road kill.
We've come to expect this kind of influence pedaling from drug companies and oil barons, whose only God is profit. But from a church? My level of cynicism just shot through the roof.
Is organized religion that corrupt? Where is the cry from the "moral majority" that their congregations are not for sale? Where are Eric Ivers or Daniel Bull's raves on the loss of local control.
Religious institutions should be building unity and love between people and not lobbying for or endorsing bigotry. It is as much a concern now as it was for our forefathers.
James Madison wrote in 1785,
"What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society?
" . . . in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny. . . Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just Government instituted to secure & perpetuate it needs them not. Such a Government will be best supported by protecting every Citizen in the enjoyment of his Religion with the same equal hand which protects his person and his property; by neither invading the equal rights of any Sect, nor suffering any Sect to invade those of another."
In this country you can't go to jail for merely being a bigot. But, bigotry should not be rewarded with our tax dollars.