This week’s Parade magazine features an article on $100 million from the recent federal government economic stimulus package going to “emergency food and shelter programs, including those run by religious organizations.” The article highlights the debate over whether federal funds should go to faith-based charities, given the much-appealed-to “separation of church and state” notion. The article goes on to quote Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who, as always, opposes such funding. It concludes by asking for readers to give their opinions on if churches should receive unrestricted government funding. The poll and an internet version of the article can be found here.
The real question never asked in the article is should any charitable organization (religious or otherwise) be receiving money from the federal government period? If one wants to appeal to the Constitution, like many proponents of separation of church and state do, then the answer is clearly no.
Former Congressman David Crockett is the source of one of my favorite quotes on this issue. In speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives on the matter of public money going to benefit the widow of a naval officer, Crockett said:
I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money.
In a column written a few years ago on the subject of charity, I also quoted James Madison on the subject. If anyone could be considered an expert on the Constitution, certainly “the Father” of it would. He also once told the House:
I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents … Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.
Rarely are really important questions like this asked. If a correct understanding of the lack of federal government authority to spend money on charity were grasped today, we would never run into such problems of separation of church and state like those posed by Parade.