March 6, 2001
Strakon Lights Up, No. 99
The Ministry of Faith
There's no better proof of how totalitarian premises have soaked and penetrated and permanently dyed our political fabric than the new Republican president's plan to ease and expand Central Government subsidies to "faith-based" social-service programs.
If you're inclined to scream, "Can't the welfare state keep its bloody hands off anything?", I sympathize completely but you're a bit late. I was already a bit late ten years ago. In the early '90s when I was a newspaper copy-editor I came across a wire story detailing how very deeply American charities had sunk into dependence on government funding. Thirty percent forty percent sixty percent of income I couldn't believe what I was reading! Though I hadn't yet transformed myself into an independent libertarian journalist, I had fancied that I was up on the worst of the statist enormities. But that news story was news to me. I was supposed to be editing the thing and cutting it to fit, but I'm afraid I had to sit there in front of the computer terminal for a few moments with my jaw on my chest. It wasn't only the palpable wrongness of it all that temporarily took me off-line but also my wonderment: When had it all happened? And how long had it sat there in all its hairy stinkiness, hidden in plain sight?
Now, about ten years later, I'll bet most Americans, including many of those who donate money to "private" charities, remain innocent of the extent to which those organizations have transformed themselves into disbursement organs of the welfare state. In retrospect, I wonder how that one wire story which brought together a mass of information complete with percentages of government income for one after another of the big charities ever got sent out. Someone must have slipped up, for those who determine the content of Big Media tend to share the mindset of those who run Big Charity. Most are members of what Joe Sobran and Tom Bethell call the Hive. Translated into Strakonish, they're Red Guards serving the overall purposes of their owners, the Dark Suits.
Whatever we call them, it is unquestionably in the interest of those in charge that individual donors not tumble to the ugly fact that they've already "donated" at gunpoint via the IRS. That just might make ordinary folks feel, well, a mite less charitable. And even though already awash in Central Government cash, the charities don't want to discourage anybody. They actively seek and will eagerly take money from any source. God knows they've proved that.
Poking around on the Net over several evenings I failed to find an overview of the top charities complete with current income figures, similar to the one that escaped from the Hive about ten years ago. But in 1997 Jeffrey Tucker, editor of The Free Market, furnished some good aggregate information, writing that "thirty-nine of the largest one hundred charities received $3.5 billion in government finance in 1995." ("Charities on the Dole," The Free Market, May/June 1997)
Perhaps the most shocking example is provided by, you guessed it, a "faith-based" organization, Catholic Charities USA. According to the Capital Research Center, Catholic Charities "received over $1.25 billion in government funds in 1993 an amazing 65 percent of its revenue." ("Reform Government Funding of Nonprofits," by Peter Sperry, June 2000) And in the 1997 article I cited, Tucker writes: "Today [Catholic Charities is] the top recipient of government booty (two-thirds of its $1.9 billion budget)." For good measure, Tucker also reports that Habitat for Humanity took a grant of $25 million from Washington in 1996, despite the fact that much of the land it builds houses on is already granted by state and local governments.
Among other offenders is the American Lung Association. Thomas DiLorenzo of The Free Market writes that "19 of the Lung Association's state and local affiliates received at least $4.1 million in EPA 'outreach' grants from 1990 to 1994...." Moreover, according to DiLorenzo, the writer Jonathan Adler has found that "the Lung Association also received 34 grants over the past six years from the EPA Office of Research and Development." ("Breathing Easy," The Free Market, May/June 1997)
State governments have gotten into the act, too. In the late 1980s, the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association joined with the Lung Association in extracting tax money from smokers in California. According to John Hood, a reviewer for The Freeman, DiLorenzo and co-author James T. Bennett lay out that story in their CancerScam: Diversion of Federal Cancer Funds to Politics. In 1988, California passed an initiative "raising cigarette taxes and using some of the proceeds to subsidize tobacco control, research, and 'public education,'" Hood writes. According to Hood's review, DiLorenzo and Bennett reveal that the three charities "all spent time and money pushing for approval of the initiative. They were rewarded by receiving at least $8 million a year from the cigarette tax increase to promote anti-tobacco education programs." (The Freeman, May 1999.)
Here's one last tidbit, from Marguerite T. Smith in her 1993 article, "The Best Charities in America" at money.com: "CARE derives less than 10 percent of its income from the public."
Since we've heard only silence on the subject during the past eight years instead of an exquisitely orchestrated and exhaustively communicated outcry I take it that the Clinton regime launched no revolution to stop government subsidies for Big Charity. So it's safe to assume that the state-infected charitable universe that I stumbled across in 1990 or 1991 is the same one that George W. Bush and his charity czar, John DiIulio Jr., are operating in now.
An important point that Tucker, DiLorenzo, Bennett, and other freedom-oriented writers are concerned to make is that state-infected charities typically lobby for more socialism and tyranny. Since money is fungible, Big Charity does some of that lobbying on the taxpayer's dime. When "faith-based" groups that are now out of the loop start to receive government money, under the Bush plan, why won't they do likewise? Red Guards already infest the hierarchy and bureaucracy of the mainline denominations, as is well known, and it's obviously in the interest of socialism's beneficiaries to press for ever more socialism.
Lobbying is one thing; old-style proselytizing may be another. When the Bush plan was first being broached, the first thing the Bushies wanted us to know was that, to keep everything constitutional, the recipient groups would be barred from proselytizing. But that won't be anything new for faith-based charities, we were assured. Look at Catholic Charities. They don't proselytize. Once we realize that Catholic Charities is already pretty much an arm of the Welfare Ministry, that's hardly a surprise. How droll, though, that the Bushies make an appeal to the Constitution serve as an entering wedge for the phenomenon that all of us freedom cranks have been warning about, unheeded, for decades: "With federal money comes federal control."
As is well known, to a great extent leviathan already supervises the hiring practices of most enterprises in the country, and it keeps an especially close eye on those it directly subsidizes. When Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer was giving one of his early briefings on the faith-based plan, one sharp reporter asked him whether the faith-based social workers would fall under the usual affirmative-action requirements. Fleischer gave one of those non-answer answers that it took him about five minutes in office to become notorious for; but it's a darn good question, and it deserves an actual answer-type answer. If the government forces a Christian faith-based social program to hire whatever atheists, Muslims, or anti-Christian bigots may apply, chances are that the question of proselytizing Christian proselytizing, at least isn't going to arise with respect to that group.
What I want to know is, if the traditional "soup and sermon" really is to be banned, in what sense except the historical will the organizations be "faith-based"? No doubt the group's workers, if they do share their group's historical faith, will have to keep it a secret. But what will they say when a recipient of aid asks them about it? I wonder how Catholics working for Catholic Charities answer that question now. Does the ACLU allow priests to wear their collar and nuns to wear their habit while on duty with Catholic Charities? Does it allow crucifixes, pictures of Christ, and other Christian iconography to decorate the facilities? If so, that amounts to an astonishing lapse of vigilance and surely a chink in the wall between church and state.
According to the New York Times, the Hare Krishnas, for one, have gone clean for the green. (Before proceeding, let's all pick ourselves up off the floor after finding out that the Krishnas have become big-time government contractors.) Timeswoman Laurie Goodstein writes, "To win their $2.5 million in government contracts in Philadelphia, the Hare Krishnas have removed almost all evidence of their religious affiliation... [Their] program used to have a sign that said, 'Hare Krishna: Food for Life.' But then some corporate sponsors complained ... and the words 'Hare Krishna' were removed. Now the organization is called simply Food for Life." ("Bush's Call to Church Groups Attracts the Untraditional," February 19) The Krishnas have stuck with their vegetarian menu, though. All that rabbit food sounds constitutionally questionable to me.
But it gets more complicated than that, as it usually does when you start expecting the government to observe its own logic. Some government-subsidized religious groups do continue to proselytize, or at least preach and vigorously. Keith Patterson, one of the Krishna employees whom Goodstein interviewed, characterized the Krishna program as "totally secular," but "contrasted it with the government-financed Salvation Army program where he used to work.
"'There were chapel services every Sunday,' Mr. Patterson said, and residents were required to attend devotions and Bible study daily. 'They were trying to get you back to God.'"
According to Goodstein, the Anti-Defamation League fears that the Nation of Islam, which has a reputation for anti-Semitism, might use government money to proselytize or preach, too. Charity Czar DiIulio has assured the ADL that the NOL would be excluded from the Bush plan. And Bush himself, Goodstein writes, "told The Austin American-Statesman during the [2000 presidential] campaign, 'I don't see how we can allow public dollars to fund programs where spite and hate is the core of the message.'"
Don't expect me to sort this out. On the one hand, the first thing the Bushies rushed to assure us about the plan was that recipient groups wouldn't be able to proselytize. On the other hand, Bush himself is talking about groups passing along some "message." Why would they do that if they weren't trying to change hearts and minds? That is, proselytizing?
While the government can revel in illogic, it cannot escape logic. Under the Bush plan, Washington can either bar all its grantees from preaching and proselytizing; or it can set itself up as the official definer of what is and is not a religion. Even the rare "faith-based" group with no interest in subsidies could not escape that defining power if the government, unasked, put it on the blacklist alongside the Nation of Islam.
Every man who is moved to be charitable must decide, before acting on his motivation, what charity is. Most of us are informed by our religious faith or other system of belief. We think about issues such as the one explored in this old saw: If you give a hungry man a fish today, he'll be hungry again tomorrow, but if you teach him how to fish, he'll never be hungry again. It is conceivable that, under a right understanding of charity, today's hungry man may have to remain hungry until tomorrow. We must find moral means to attain our moral ends.
The Bush plan may involve a lot of instruction in angling, for all I know, but I'm examining not the plan's agenda right now but rather its moral character. When we freely give to the unfortunate under our own understanding of charity, that decision has a moral import. It means something for us, to us, and about us. When a bureaucrat appropriates funds stolen by taxation to other bureaucrats who spend them according to program directives, that decision has nothing to do with us morally except in our continuing and expanding roles as victims of robbery and extortion. In other words, "Catholic Charities," if it derives 65 percent of its income from the robbery of taxation, is only 35 percent "Charities," and 65 percent something else. (I will be charitable myself and refrain from characterizing what that something else is.) This is all Libertarianism 101 there is no morality at gunpoint but I never thought I'd have to apply it to communities based in religious faith.
It's hard to believe the country's traditional churches and congregations won't be further weakened once all their hierarchs and bureaucrats climb on board the Bush bandwagon. But it's easy to figure out who will be strengthened. As the members of church communities are stripped of the responsibility for free decision-making along with its pains and rewards and opportunities for witnessing, spiritual awakening, and development the Red Guards in the church hierarchy and bureaucracy can be counted on to make the most of that moral disarmament. For decades they have made the most of ordinary people's acquiescence in the misuse of whatever portion of their freely given tithe money that the Guards could lay hands on. Under the new scheme of Bush the Republican, congregations in Arkansas and Arizona that were previously dumbfounded to find their contributions being used to import Third Worlders to Wisconsin and Georgia won't even have the option to withhold money from the Guards in the hierarchy who act in their name. If you thought atrocities had been committed under the old system of voluntary acquiescence, wait until the new system of compulsion is in place and has swallowed up the faith-based charities that used to be independent.
One of the prime goals advertised by the Bush plan is the promotion of literacy. It's a good time to remind ourselves who the Red Guards or Red Robes of the National Council of Churches consider the great champion of literacy for the underprivileged in our era: Fidel Castro.
George W. Bush's plan relies in part on tax breaks. Now, you'll never hear me criticize a tax break per se. I'm always happy to hear that some lucky man, company, or organization somewhere is getting a little relief from the official robbery. What I resent is that everyone doesn't get the same relief. And as an analyst, I have to point out that, until everyone gets the same relief from taxation, the regime will be using tax breaks as yet another tool of social engineering and as yet another means of rewarding its politically connected favorites.
March 6, 2001
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