The Bush administration has brought a bill before Congress that would allow religious organizations to receive federal housing funds to build or repair places of worship, as long as a section of the building is used for a social program.
Bush’s support of faith-based social initiatives follows the thinking of many like Dr. Ronald J. Snider, president and founder of Evangelicals for Social Action, who in Just Generosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America, writes, “congregation-based community organizing is proving to be a powerful tool to enable the poor to end their sense of powerlessness.”
While, in many cases, the personal and spiritual approach of faith-based social programs is far more effective than secular programs, these initiatives should not receive federal funding because the proposed allocation of grants is arbitrary and borders on a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.
Also, the bill only stipulates that part of the building be used for a social service. Therefore, as Douglas Laycock, a professor at the University of Texas Law School argues, the issue is whether the federal money is going exclusively toward secular use — a fact that cannot be determined.
If a church’s congregation decides it wants to institute a social program, then the members of that congregation should be responsible for raising the money necessary to run the program. Donations from the church’s members and the community will far outweigh any money given through federal grants, and the organization’s tax-exempt status ensures that all funds will be used in the best way the organization sees fit.
Government involvement would make religious organizations accountable to the government. This threatens both the autonomy of religious organizations and the quality of the social programs being administered. Faith-based initiatives should be left solely to those who are best suited to perform the job — the members of the church.
University Wire — Baylor University