Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Faith-Based Initiatives

Old Business: Cheney's Hunting Accident

Cheney went on the air at Fox news and said that the shooting was his responsibility. He said, "It was not Harry's fault. You can't blame anybody else."

Cheney got this one right. Everybody who tried to defend him by saying that Whettington was responsible for getting shot got this moral question wrong. They need to ask themselves what this says about their own moral character; and it is not good.

Partisan loyalty blinded them to the difference between right and wrong. In a contest between devotion to party and devotion to principle, party won, and moral principles were abandoned.

Once they recognize the fact that they have twisted and distorted moral principle to suit their tastes, perhaps they should ask themselves if members of the Bush Administration have done other things that they, in a moment of calm reflection, would otherwise recognize as being contrary to the demands of morality.

P.S. One should not get the idea that I think only Republicans put party above morality. Yet, it is a poor defense for anybody to argue, "Somebody else did this, so I may do it as well." Imagine a rapist saying, "Other people have committed rape; therefore it is permissible for me to commit rape." This way of thinking is wrong, regardless of the party affiliation of the person who does it.

New Business: Faith Based Initiatives

When President Bush signed the Deficit Reduction Act on February 8th, he signed a measure that significantly increased the amount of federal money going to faith-based institutions from $236 million to $323 million, while tens of billions of dollars in funds from other programs were also made available to organizations with discriminatory hiring programs.

So see what is wrong with this, imagine that you are one of 1,000 people who belong to a particular club. At one of the club's gatherings, the club President demands $1,000 from each person in the room. Everybody must pay; there is no option to decline.

When this is done, the President has collected $1 million.

Then, the President pulls out a small collection of documents. He announces that he will distribute the $1 million among those who will sign one of those documents. All of the documents share one quality; the person signing it swears allegiance to a religious organization that meets with the President's approval.

We do not need to assume that only atheists would refuse to sign one of these forms. Anybody who does not belong to one of the approved faiths would also refuse to sign. Others who have doubts would also be inclined to refuse, as well as those who are torn between two or more groups and does not want to be forced to commit to any one group. Also, we find among those who will not sign those who think that this type of policy is wrong.

By the way, I should mention that this is a club that has a set of guiding principles, and that the first of these bylaws says that the club will not discriminate against members on the basis of religious belief, and that boasts that they have great pride in this principle. It will not use religious affiliation as a reason for charging some members extra dues or for allowing others to obtain extra benefits.

In the end, 800 club members sign one of the documents of religious affiliation. Once the President has the final number, he gives each of these an equal share of $1,250 dollars.

Each non-signer is $1,000 poorer; each signer is $250 richer.


This is how President Bush's faith-based initiative program works.

We all pay taxes.

I have built into this example the assumption that all members pay equal dues, but this element does not match reality. In fact, a club that collects $1,100 from each club member, but which collects nothing from representatives of an approved religion would more accurately represent our nation. Those approved representatives would still have full use of the club facilities, driving up bills with the goods and services that they use for free, which other club members (those which are not representatives of an approved religion) must then pay.

I want to be clear that I am not speaking about the tax breaks that religious institutions get in virtue of the fact that they are non-profit organizations. Any break that applies to non-profit organizations also applies, if we are going to be fair, to non-profit religious organizations. I am talking about breaks that religious institutions (and those who work for them) get in virtue of the fact that they are religious institutions (or work for them).

Yet, even if we ignore these unfair burdens and pretend that the taxation (or payment of dues) is not assigned on the basis of religious affiliation, the problem illustrated in my opening example remains.

The distribution of the money that the government receives is unfair. For all practical purposes, this is a program that takes money from those who will not sign one of the loyalty oaths and gives it to those who will. The effect is no different from that of a program where the government pays people to sign loyalty oaths to a list of government-approved religious organization, while imposing fines on those who do not sign such an oath.

Response 1: Selective Discrimination

One response that somebody might give to this is to claim that while the organizations are allowed to discriminate with respect to who they hire, most of the money goes out to people as charity without regards to the beliefs of the recipient.

This response fails on so many levels to count.

First, there is the imposition of telling anybody who will not sign such an oath that they must go to somebody who will sign such an oath to receive aid. It creates an inherently unjust relationship where oath-takers are given power and authority over those who refuse. Nowhere in this society are oath-takers being put in a position where they must ask those who refuse to take the oath for help.

Second, these faith-based programs are not only discriminating against others in who they hire, but also in who they buy goods and services from. If they bank at an oath-taker’s bank, insist on buying bread from a bakery owned and operated by fellow oath-takers, and insist on renting space only from an oath-taker, then the government is creating a whole economy from which a portion of the nation is excluded. With this multiplier effect, a $100 million government faith-based program can lock those who refuse to take such oaths out of a billion dollars worth of economic opportunities.

Third, these programs give oath-takers opportunities to find work and to network with others who may help their careers that those who refuse to take such oaths do not have. This gives them a competitive edge in other parts of society – in finding work outside the organization, in running for office, in finding customers for whatever small business they decide to create. The “excluded” will simply not have the same level of opportunity as the “included.”

Response 2: Only Some Programs are Faith-Based

Another possible response might make note of the fact that the government spends money on a number of different things, and most of the money spent is not earmarked for faith-based groups.

However, let us modify the original example slightly. The President of the club demands $2,000 from each member. He still takes $1,000 of that and redistributes it among the oath-takers. With regard to the redistribution of money, power, and opportunity from those who refuse to take the oath to the oath-takers, nothing has changed. The same amount of money, power, and opportunity is still being taken from one group and given to the other.


The policy they seek is none other than one where the government says to the people, "Those whose beliefs are on this approved list will shoulder less of the government burden and obtain more benefits; while those whose beliefs are not on the approved list must shoulder more of the burden and expect less benefit."

Faith-based funding is a belief-tax - a fine levelied against those who do not have the right beliefs where the revenue is then used to pay citizens to sign loyalty oaths to government-approved religious organizations.

These people claim to be the model defenders of morality, yet they show no interest in applying simple, basic principles of fairness and justice.


DNA said...

Interesting analysis. While I generally agree, it should be noted that about 85% of our country is religious. To further your line of thought, it would be interesting to know what proportion of taxes that 15% pays. I suppose likely more than 15%.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


That specific question would not be useful. At some point, prejudice such as this will drive the target group into greater poverty, ultimately causing them to pay less taxes -- though they would still pay more in taxes than others in the same tax category.

Therefore, one interesting question would be to determine if the non-religious (or those not of an approved religion) pay more in taxes and obtain less in benefits than religious people with identical household incomes.

It is a proposition likely to be true, if we count as "benefits" those who have jobs in faith-based instutitions receiving government funding -- jobs from which the non-religious (or those not of the right religion) are banned.

Lupis Noctum said...

I have to strongly disagree with dna's assertion that "about 85% of our country is religious."

There is a huge difference between announcing that one is a follower of a religion and actually following that religion. The average "religious" person's daily life and that recommended by his religion are usually two very different things.

A more accurate statement would be something akin to "about 85% of our country professes adherance to one religion or another." The 85% figure I took from your statement, no clue how accurate that is, though I doubt that even that many people give even lip service to a particular religion these days.