Thursday, February 19, 2009

God and the Stimulus

The debate over the efficacy of the stimulus package has taken a different turn in the last week. At issue according to Christianity Today, the stimulus package states that money cannot be used to renovate facilities:
(i) used for sectarian instruction, religious worship, or school department of divinity; or (ii) in which a substantial portion of the functions of the facilities are subsumed in a religious mission.
With this qualification in mind, a new line of attack started last week when Mike Huckabee charged that the package is anti-religious:
The dust is settling on the ‘bipartisan’ stimulus bill and one thing is clear: It is anti-religious.
To which the Christian Coalition jumped in:
It is beyond belief that a large number of Democrat [sic] members of Congress are absolutely intent on satisfying the anti-Christian whims of their left-wing supporters and passing legislation putting Christians and other people of faith at an exterme [sic] disadvantage in America.
And today, one group, American Issues Project, created a new television ad opposing the stimulus by invoking images of Jesus. Saith the ad:
"Suppose you spent $1 million every single day starting from the day Jesus was born — and kept spending through today,” says the announcer as an image of the three wise men flashes on the screen. “A million dollars a day for more than 2,000 years. You would still have spent less money than Congress just did."
But, as Christianity Today states, this legislative language is normative:
However, the language in the stimulus bill is neither new nor unusual, since restrictions have been part of federal higher education policy for over 40 years. Rather than inhibit religion, these restrictions make possible federal funding to religious colleges and universities.
Funding of higher education is, in some sense, our largest faith-based initiative. And like other faith-based initiatives, what allows the government to support education at religious colleges and universities is the necessary caveat that the federal funding be used for religiously neutral purposes. Far from being "anti-religious," the restrictions in the stimulus bill are the same old prohibitions that have allowed the federal government to help religious colleges and universities educate students for the past 40 years.
Faith in Public Life agrees:
This is standard practice, not some assault on Christianity. Also, it's standard practice that sensibly rooted in our Constitution, which protects against the establishment of religion (which some people seem to forget). Church/state balance is a tricky thing-- as shown by numerous court cases and the controversy over the faith-based initiatives office-- but the ban on direct government funding for something used for sectarian, religious purposes is, to put it bluntly, a no-brainer.
Bottom line, the stimulus package is NOT anti-religious.


Darren Staley said...

It is not at all, imo. I have said for years that I have ZERO problem with sending federal monies to religious groups so long as they do not proselytize and do not discriminate in hiring.

Doing God's work for the work itself is, imo, more of a blessing that doing it to pocket converts.

And, btw, if a non-believer went to work for such a group and started spreading his views while delivering a meal, etc, I would have no problem with firing his ass either.

When people are hungry, you feed them. When people are homeless, you shelter them. When people are sick, you treat them. You don't judge them or preach at them. That is what Jesus is to me.

jhimm said...

Or one could say that the stimulus package is as anti-religious as the first amendment requires it to be in order to be a constitutional piece of legislation (insofaras people of a particular mindset within the church view anything which is areligious as being anti-religious).

I do not understand why so many of our faith fail to understand that having the separation of church and state cut -both- ways is in our best interest. Every time religious groups accept money from the government (or tax credits via tax exemption status) they give the government an opportunity to control their actions. Why would you not only invite that, but demand it as your right?

Drew said...

jhrimm, very thoughtful post. Thanks! To your last question, I think it I think that religious organizations take money in order to raise the ceiling on the number of people they can give food too, give clothes too, etc. You know the whole Matthew 25 ethic. But, yeah, I have always said that, if I was a church pastor as both of my parents, I would not want the taint of government intrusion - and a government that messes with unjustified wars and torture taboot - into my sacred space.

To your first question: very interesting thought. I would say that laws stand on precedent, both adjudicated judicially (forgive the semantic repetition there) and on legislative templates. The part of the stimulus in question has been written for 40 years, going through conservative and liberal leaning congresses, conservative and liberal leaning presidents. This part, I would think, has suffered the scrutiny of all sides and still stands. In this light, I would guess, it is solidly religiously neutral.

jhimm said...

religiously neutral is what i meant by 'areligious', so we agree there.

my suspicion on the other topic is that for a long time it did not occur to church organizations that by accepting money from the gov. they were inviting gov. control. it was only quite recently that the gov. began to put limits on how such money could be used, and it is the shock of that change in -practice- that i believe has many shouting about anti-religious action. they do not yet understand that by taking the money they granted gov. control over how church funds would be spent.

Drew said...

That sounds intuitively correct to me, especially given the relative newness of faith-based initiatives in the last decade - intuitively, like your suspicion, because I don't have any research to prove one way or another.

But the current faith-based initiative sticking point is over hiring practices - as Darren pointed out in the first comment here. Some groups want to hire only people their religions support, while the government says you can't discriminate in hiring practices if you take federal money. That this debate exists at all gives credence to your argument.

jhimm said...

yes, that [hiring practices] is typically the primary example of the first amendment conflict that is created when a religious organization accepts money. many outspoken groups are currently having their tax exempt status threatened over just that topic. i say give up the status and do the work you feel called to do with the people you feel called to hire to get it done. prove you do not worship money by being willing to find a way to make do with less.

i worry that too many Christians are getting lazy with opening up their wallets because they can now say "well, my taxes go to a lot of welfare and charity programs". this is all backwards.

Drew said...

Exactly. If you want your own people, you can have them, but you just can't take government money. Not necessarily a bad choice, but one that could drastically lower the number of people you can reach/help. So, I am not necessarily sure it is out of laziness, but that the Christian ethic is caught in a tough tension of principles. Help as many people as you can versus hire only those people to help that your religion/denomination supports. As a Matthew 25 progressive, this is a no-brainer to me, but I can understand the dispute and hesitation.

Anonymous said...

Darren-you are getting soft!