A Tenuous Deal with the Devil

Generally speaking, the government ought to get out of the charity business, but if it’s going to appropriate funds, there’s no reason that it shouldn’t be able to work together with religious groups toward shared ends. For one thing, their spiritual motivation often enables lower administrative costs. The danger — the deal with the devil — is that government tends to appropriate in the other direction, as well, making the receipt of its funds an increasingly dominant consideration. And when it begins making demands, the religious organizations ought to cordially turn away from the relationship.
One might justifiably be suspicious that, at bottom, the word “expand” has a double meaning for the current administration, indicating both an increase in the size of the program and in its demands of participants:

President Obama signed an executive order Thursday to create a revamped White House office for religion-based and neighborhood programs, expanding an initiative started by the Bush administration that provides government support — and financing — to religious and charitable organizations that deliver social services. …
In announcing the expansion of the religion office, Mr. Obama did not settle the biggest question: Can religious groups that receive federal money for social service programs hire only those who share their faith?
The Bush administration said yes. But many religious groups and others that are concerned about employment discrimination and protecting the separation of church and state had pushed hard for Mr. Obama to repeal the Bush policies.
Meanwhile, other religious groups were lobbying to preserve their right to use religion as a criterion in hiring. Some religious social service providers warned they might stop working with the government if they were forced to change policies.

Invidious discrimination should not mix with charity, but the practice of interfering with an organization that’s interwoven with religious principles will tend to expand, with groups opposed to various religious tenets using the government’s reach to constrict them. The impression that religious citizens should be wary of government expansion is fortified by other recent news:

Senator DeMint’s [failed stimulus-package] amendment would have eliminated a provision that bans any university or college receiving funds to renovate buildings, from allowing “sectarian instruction” or “religious worship” within the facility. This would in effect bar use of campus buildings for groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Campus Crusade for Christ, Catholic Student Ministries, Hillel, and other religious organizations.

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