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July 30, 2008

Leaders in Both Parties Turning to Faith-Based Solutions

Jindal The great thing about this country is that an immigrant family can be here for a couple of generations and become as American as George Washington. To wit, we have the example of the mercurial rise of Governor Bobby Jindal (R-Louisiana), who with less than a year in office at age 37 is already talked about as a leading candidate for Vice President on the Republican ticket with U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Arizona).

Jindal has just about everything McCain needs to balance out his ticket: youth, a Southern state, diversity, plus he even shares McCain's penchant for reform. Some might question Jindal's youth, but that can be dealt with if people find him mature in other ways. He has already scored big points with the public in Louisiana by vetoing a legislative pay raise in the midst of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath.

That was, of course, what launched him into the spotlight: Katrina. When the federal and state governments were unable to deliver the necessary help for the hurricane victims in Louisiana, Jindal pitched in and in a major way. He coordinated the relief network, including many faith-based organizations, who helped to fill the gaps left by government incompetence.

With Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama taking flak from his base for endorsing faith-based initiatives and a possible GOP Vice Presidential nominee having his claim to fame being the harnessing of the faith community to help Louisiana, both parties have their advocates for faith-based initiatives. Let's hope this signals a maturing of thought, which will be welcome in times when our country needs all hands on deck for our common challenges.

(Image © Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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Jason Taylor

I tend to be suspicious of the idea of government subsidies for faith-based organizations. It sounds a lot like placing oneself in hock to Vito Coreleone.

Gina Dalfonzo

You're fond of the "Godfather" references lately, Jason. Been having your own movie marathon? :-)

Jason Taylor

No. Just two situations that seemed to make them appropriate happend in a short time span. I THOUGHT someone would mention it.
But the Godfather analogy is very good in this case. Religious institutions that take to many favors from the State become either corrupt and spoiled themselves, or simply servants of the State.
This is not an absolute precept. England theoretically has an established church. Israel, a bit more concretely has an established synagogue. And Vatican City has an established church obviously-though paradoxically the purpose of that is to prevent further establishment. That is by giving the Catholic Church a minor but legitimate sovereignity it prevents it's dependancy on more conventional States.
Thus disestablishment is a guideline not an absolute. But in the case of subsidies, taking State subsides risks taking State regulations, hence the Godfather anology.

Chris Clukey

I not only share Jason's hesitancy about these programs being in hock to Uncle Sam, I also have two other concerns.

First, these programs show how far off the mark our country is. I think if the Founders heard about these programs, they'd say, "How did you ever let the government get so big that it was taking in more money than the churches?"

Second, we've only seen what a pro-life, somewhat conservative administration will do with this money. I can only begin to imagine what abuses might take place under an administration led by a President with the sort of "family values" I listed in my comments under this Point post:


Faith-based sex ed for the kindergartners at Vacation Bible School, anyone? How about government funding for Planned Parenthood's chaplains?


While these are tenable positions, remember one thing: as long as a religious organization is in a better position than the federal government to do something important for the public welfare (dirty word that, I know), then if the government is allocating taxpayer money for such projects anyway, why can't the religious organization get in line and compete with anyone else? Why discriminate against religious organizations?

And from the other side, you're exactly right: if the government puts restrictions on the religious organization that totally would strip it of its identity, then yes, the church or religious non-profit involved would be betraying God and its principles.

BUT...there are at least some programs where the church and the state CAN come to some agreement--and where the needs of the state and the desire of the church to serve are not at odds but are moving in the same general direction.

Our Innerchange Freedom Initiative (IFI) is a good example. We don't force anyone to become a Christian, but we offer a Christian environment in the prison wing we manage by competitive bid.
Until the Iowa decision, the state only paid for what they would have been paying anyway: room and board for the prisoners, while we picked up the rest.
And it's strictly voluntary. And we're helping society as you can see from our lower reincarceration rates.

As long as federal and state governments are giving out grants for such projects, and as long as the religious organization is neither being forcible nor forced out of its beliefs, then religious organizations have as much a right to compete for bids as anyone else in our society.

I tend to agree, however, that it would probably be a better world if the government were smaller and the private philanthropies more numerous so that we could have a more efficient direct flow of monies to vital projects like IFI.

Alas, that world passed us by some decades ago.

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