We Cannot Rely on the Churches to Provide Public Assistance


Conservative politicians generally seem to agree that the government should not be in the business of providing any sort of assistance to unemployed or impoverished Americans. Let the churches do that, they say. By shifting this burden from the government to the faith-based sector, they aim to relieve the wealthiest 2% of most of their already minimal tax burden and shrink the size of government (at least in certain areas to which they are ideologically opposed).

But look at what happens if we let this scenario play out. The public has to count on churches to provide the safety net. These are the same churches the conservative politicians have been working hard to free from any sort of regulations about who they hire and who they may choose to help. Aid comes with strings attached once churches are so freed. The government cannot legally discriminate when they provide public assistance, but churches would have few such constraints. If they could make providing assistance contingent on conversion, some would undoubtedly do so. If you needed help, you'd need to let them "save" you.

Being a fiscal conservative who prefers a smaller government is one thing; supporting policies that would require the needy to grovel before the churches to receive aid is something else entirely. It seems like a plan designed to bypass the wall between church and state. Needless to say, it is not something we should welcome in a secular democracy if we would like it to remain a secular democracy. We need effective public assistance (not to mention secular public education) from the government precisely because that is the only way we can prevent this sort of thing from happening. If they have taught us one thing countless times, it is that we cannot rely on the churches to provide effective public assistance without discrimination or proselytizing.