Handing Charitable Authority to the State
In a recent iteration of his editor’s column for First Things, Joseph Bottum takes up the topic of the branches of religious organizations that reside at the edges of the organized church, itself, what he calls “limicole institutions”:
As [Archbishop] Chaput notes, the first leverage typically used is financial. Public bureaucrats and lawmakers pressure Catholic agencies by threatening to withdraw funding or to revoke tax exemptions. And, as a result, Catholic Charities in many jurisdictions end up obliged, for both practical and legal reasons, to hire a majority non-Catholic staff.
Of course, that issue is but one aspect of the larger issue of religious liberty. Over the next decade, this is where the battle of religious liberty will be most visibly fought—in the limicole institutions. And particularly in the Catholic ones, as the most visible and, in bulk, significant. Homosexual activity, contraception, and abortion will be the flashpoints. To quote, again, Archbishop Chaput, “Critics rarely dispute the Church’s work fighting injustice, helping community development, or serving persons in need. But that’s no longer enough. Now they demand that the Church must submit her identity and mission to the state’s promotion of these newly alleged rights—despite the constant Catholic teaching that these behaviors are personal moral tragedies that can lead to deep social injustices.”
As I’ve stated, before, there are two issues, here, the first being the obvious matter of religious liberty and the lines that protect it. The second issue, which is less remarked in this context, is the oppressively broad government that, frankly, many religious people have helped to bring about as they’ve sought to leverage civic authority as a means of social change and charitable action.
Once it became a matter of law that the government could enforce non-discrimination in employment, it became a matter of political maneuvering to define what constitutes discrimination. It should not surprise religious people that those who find their worldview misguided, even fundamentally offensive, would determine that their religious doctrine violate the law. Similarly, as the government has taken on the role of regulating and funding charitable services — a cause for which religious officials and laypeople continue to advocate — it has gained authority over those who provide such services as a religious mission.
People seem to believe that common sense and reasonable allowances will always be a factor in government action. It’s a dubious proposition of itself, but religious citizens, especially, ought to appreciate the problem that their civic opposition believes that common sense and reasonable allowances are subjective, shifting concepts, conveniently tending toward their core beliefs, not ours.