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Government shouldn’t force-feed charity

You may have read a recent story in The Oracle about a group of students who were arrested for handing out food to homeless people. The group Food Not Bombs was judged to be in violation of a Tampa city ordinance that requires a permit to be obtained in order to hand out free food in a public place.

This is the latest example of government regulation gone awry. An even better example occurred last summer in Naples when police shut down a 6-year-old girl’s lemonade stand because she didn’t have a business license.

This is a good example of what happens when government gets carried away with regulation.

To a degree, I understand the reasoning behind the ordinance requiring a permit for handing out food to people. No one wants contaminated or poisoned food to be handed out to unsuspecting and vulnerable people.

But what about when individuals or groups of people — charities, churches, civic groups, etc. — give out food at events they may be holding? Is it really necessary to obtain a permit?

An example that comes to mind is an annual yard sale that is used to raise funds for my church. For the past several years, a group of young girls from our church have sold food like corn dogs and popcorn. Is it really necessary for them to obtain a permit from the government?

Another question is, “Why would police waste their time arresting people for handing out or selling food?” Your answer is as good as mine.

A homeless man in the story named Danny summed up the whole problem when he said, “Why would they say giving away food to the hungry is a health hazard? It seems like that is healthier than just letting them starve. I think I know what’s healthy for my body, and going hungry isn’t healthy. The city isn’t out to protect anyone’s health.”

Why do we allow the government to have the right to tell us when and where we can distribute or receive food?

The obvious answer is that there are health concerns. But who should have the power to decide what’s healthy for us — a chosen few?

This incident goes well with the argument I made in my column last week about the different philosophies when it comes to helping the disadvantaged. It’s a good example of government stopping individual citizens from committing voluntary acts of charity, but at the same time forcing them to pay taxes that go toward government-run welfare.

What’s better: individuals giving out of the kindness of their own hearts or government forcing individuals to give their tax money to welfare programs they may not agree with?

Although I know that liberals and “progressives” will not agree with me on the idea of not having government take tax money and redistributing it, this particular incident may be one issue where they and I can agree. I hope they will see this incident as an example of what can happen when government gets too involved in the affairs of everyday citizens.

Denise Aguero, a student in the story who was given a warning by police not to distribute the food said, “We are trying to help people, not cause problems. We shouldn’t need to get a permit to help people who need it.”

It’s a classic case of government regulation meaning well, but causing unnecessary harm — harm to the homeless people, harm to the students who were arrested and harm to the idea of individuals being able to commit voluntary acts of kindness.

That’s one of the reasons I’m very skeptical of any government-run charity and especially of any funding by the government going to charity organizations. Government-run charities forcibly take tax money from one person and give it to another. When funding from government goes toward charities, invariably there are strings attached — meaning that government gets to dictate how the money is used and for what it is used.

Bottom line: Government should back off when it comes to charity work. Whether regulating it or running it, government always seems to hinder it.

Adam Fowler is a junior majoring in political science.