[Hpn] President needs to learn manna doesn't fall from Washington

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Sat, 10 Feb 2001 16:27:39 -0700


Published: Saturday, February 10, 2001

President needs to learn manna doesn't fall from Washington

Don't tell the bad guys, but if you want to curb a religion really fast, all
you have to do is surprise it with a big gift of money.

One of the key words here is surprise. You must not give the religion much
warning nor time to think of the implications of the gift. Just dump a fat
bag of money on the doorstep of most religions and bingo, the entire
enterprise will start to fade.

The other important concept here is fat -- it has to be a really big gift of
money -- tons of moola. The weekly offering most of us make to our place of
worship just keeps the engines running. We're not talking about offerings,
we're talking enough money to buy the operation, lock, stock and barrel.

A case in point is the new foundation that President Bush is asking for. The
president wants to help religions do a better job helping needy people.
Further, Bush says that since faith-based organizations already have the
machinery in place, why not give them money to do the job right -- even
expand their services? Our chief executive is wondering, ``Wouldn't that be
better than establishing a bunch of new and expensive government agencies?''

That proposal makes sense except this nation has always held tightly to the
First Amendment, which says in part, ``that Congress shall make no law
respecting the establishment of religion nor prohibiting the free exercise

So constitutional scholars across the nation are debating the merits of
Bush's plan, and they are trying to determine if this money is going to
prohibit the free exercise of religion.

Some of the religious agencies in line for money, including homeless
shelters, counseling centers, drug rehabilitation centers and others, think
the money will increase their freedom to exercise faith.

Still, there are many people who get suspicious any time the government
claims to bring help. So the debate rages, and it won't stop until the money
arrives. Then all the naysayers will calm down and try to find ways to spend
the money without giving up their religious values.

That's going to be a problem because the government will hang many controls
on the money. The Bush administration does not want to be accused of
favoring one religion over another. So, let's say a mission for homeless men
in Tacoma, Wash., gets $5 million but still wants to force clients to hear a
sermon about Jesus before they get the cabbage soup and a bed for the night.
The government may think that is excessive, and the promise of millions
could be withdrawn.

Or the opposite may be true in some places. What if a shelter for abused
children in Des Moines, Iowa, asks the government for $3 million to expand?
Fearful of being rejected, shelter officials decide to promise they will not
pray with children -- unless the prayer is government approved.

The truth is, any time a religion accepts money from the government, that
religion will be scrutinized by the government. The further truth is, the
religious content of their ministry will have to be separate from the
government-subsidized ministry.

In other words, you can't pray over a ministry that is funded by public
money. Why? Because people of many religions contributed to that fund, and
to single out one religion's prayers would be discrimination.

It is true that religions have received government money for services for
many years. For instance, the courts may recognize that a religion's
programs to help runaway young people is efficient and successful. Therefore
the courts assign young people to the religion's program and the government
pays for services rendered. But those are secular services, not religious.

The government does not give money to any religion just so prayers can be
said. Religion is healthiest when it struggles. And it struggles best when
money is not falling from heaven. When a faith-based agency has too much
money, it gets lazy. And historically, when all the forces seem to be
against the servants of God, that's when the faith shines brightest.

Money is not the secret to spiritual riches. Secrets to the faith are
discovered somewhere deeper where the eyes of humankind can barely
penetrate. When you get to that place of secrets, you will know the greatest
spiritual gift is being able to pray and sing when the spirit moves. Then
you will know, the spirit is not headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Clark Morphew's religion column runs on Saturdays. He can be reached at
 2001 PioneerPlanet / St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press / TwinCities.com

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