Church and state ought not to mix President Bush and...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

March 31, 2001

Church and state ought not to mix

President Bush and Mayor Martin O'Malley are wrong to endorse public funding of faith-based charities.

Religion by its very nature is exclusive, while public entities are required by law to be inclusive.

Throughout history the faithful have discriminated against those who were not of their flock. Why should anyone feel that faith-based charities would not develop subtle ways to continue this practice using public funds?

Furthermore, faith-based charitable work for centuries was driven by the Christian passion for proselytizing. What makes one think it won't still happen -- with government underwriting the task?

Church programs need to be supported by individuals and businesses who choose to support them. By the same token, those who do not choose to support sectarian programs should be guaranteed that their tax dollars are not funneled to faith-based groups.

It is to their mutual benefit that government and religion should be kept apart. There is nothing worse for religion than government, and nothing worse for government than religion.

Donald Klein, Ocean City

Under President Bush's plan, the state will deceive us by using the charitable infrastructures of churches as a shortcut to serve the needs of some people.

These systems originated through the generosity and hard work of the faithful. Now, in the end, all of us will be robbed of the purity of our spiritual sanctuaries and of the true meaning of our generosity.

The faithful gave without expectation. The state will not.

Engaged in a relationship with a civil authority, the church will be under its power -- and what once belonged to the faithful will do the state's bidding.

B. Fenner, Columbia

President Bush's plan and Mayor Martin O'Malley's initiative to combat youth violence would require government to give faith-based groups funds directly.

Such trust might easily be abused, intentionally or otherwise, resulting in unconstitutional government funding for religious purposes.

Further, such funding would have to be carefully controlled, to ensure that it was fairly apportioned to all religious groups.

An unfair apportionment would be a direct violation of the Constitution's intent to avoid religious discrimination, which is the real purpose of the separation of church and state.

And, since there are infinite religions and religious groups, a fair apportionment among them all would be virtually impossible.

Benjamin Millman, Baltimore

Funneling public money to "faith-based" charities is akin to funneling public money to private and parochial schools.

Both actions are blatant attempts to erode the separation of church and state.

Both actions are inherently wrong and must not be tolerated.

Maureen M. Larkin, Timonium

Why can't public funds be funneled to create secular facilities?

To argue that "faith-based" groups are better able to meet human needs is specious. There are very few secular charities, and they are pitifully underfunded.

Why must individuals in need of help have to pray for their supper? Even kids can see the hypocrisy of getting a free meal in exchange for their souls.

The Constitution guarantees freedom from coercion and freedom of conscience -- and not just to those who can afford it.

Ingrid Holt Krause, Baltimore

Some faith-based charities are better able to reach people in need because they respect their dignity, offering personal, caring attention rooted in the sense of being brothers and sisters in the family of a loving God.

But will the infusion of government money not poison that personal relationship?

Government funding will require more impersonal, intrusive processes. It will prohibit faith-based agencies from political activities, banning efforts to advocate equal rights or justice or stand in solidarity with the poor against government agencies.

Charity without solidarity is demeaning. It fosters not dignity and reciprocity but condescension and resentment.

Also, it's likely money that is funneled to charities will not equal the amount government would pay through entitlement programs. The churches will be expected to cure widespread ills caused by systemic injustices, with relatively small amounts of funding.

This is either an effort to buy off the churches or a sly end-run to reduce federal spending on the poor.

No one seeks to hand over military or business matters to churches. No one thinks voluntary, minimally funded programs should build missiles or regulate the stock market.

Why think they will solve our deep-rooted social problems?

Denise Barker, Timonium

What, exactly, is a faith-based charity? Are we talking Catholic Relief Services and the Associated Jewish Charities? The Church of Latter-day Saints? The Unification Church? The Scientologists?

And what would the apportionment of funds be among them?

Perhaps we would be better off giving federal monies to foundations and letting them follow their usual grant criteria, with the proviso that more emphasis be placed on faith-based activities.

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