Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Just say "no" to federal reimbursements

According to a Washington Post article FEMA has authorized the taxpayer-funded reimbursement of churches and religious organizations for the charitable work they’ve done in ministering to those affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. There will be considerable resistance to this decision on the part of those who think this is some violation of the perceived constitutional provision for the “separation of church and state.” They will say such reimbursements are unconstitutional. They will be right, just not for the reasons they think.

Payments to churches and religious organizations in no way constitutes the establishment of a state religion by the United States government and such an establishment is the ONLY thing prohibited by the constitution with regard to religion. So on this point the opponents of FEMA’s proposed reimbursements will be dead wrong. They will, however, be absolutely correct in their assessment that reimbursements are unconstitutional.

The Constitution of the United States is an extremely specific document. It spells out precisely what the federal government is authorized to do. If an action is not specifically mentioned in the constitution then Congress has no authority to do it.

Thomas Jefferson said, “Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated.”

Which begs the question, are there any specifically enumerated provisions for benevolence?

James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution,” didn’t think so when he said, “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.”

But I recognize that the federal government long ago ceased to respect the authority of the constitution and we now live in a country where churches are going to be deciding whether or not to accept the reimbursements offered by FEMA. I sincerely hope none do.

Just suppose that churches everywhere got into the habit of accepting federal reimbursement for ministries they provide. Eventually churches would become nothing more than a funnel for federal money. They would, in essence, become nothing more than another federal agency, a government subcontractor. This is how churches would come to be regarded by the people they assist. There’s no sacrifice on the part of the church because they get all their money back.

We are called to minister in Jesus’ name, not Uncle Sam’s. The Church exists for the glory of God alone and does not need to act on behalf of another.

Furthermore, it would not be long before some bureaucrat or judge decided to place restrictions on churches that have accepted “government funds,” again in the interest of “separation of church and state.” Churches would be instructed on what they can and cannot say when ministering to those in need. Given enough time it might even be possible for churches to become dependent on federal money for their ministries and thus face a decision at the point of federal intervention to either remain steadfast in their beliefs and take a financial hit or compromise in order to continue feeding at the federal trough.

It is a prospect that is all too real. Besides, the Church does not need federal assistance. We have all of the resources we need. And when we use them it should be God who receives the glory for the good work done in His name.

While I appreciate the fact that FEMA doesn’t seem bothered by the erroneous interpretation of the constitution’s establishment clause, I maintain that the acceptance of federal money by churches is ill advised.


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