Keeping the Faith, Ignoring the History

Susan Jacoby

Nearly everyone now takes for granted the wisdom, constitutionality, and inevitability of some form of federal financing for community social services run by religious groups. Who anymore can imagine that the United States managed to exist for over two hundred years without the government providing any direct aid to faith and its works?

It is truly dismaying that amid all the discussion about President Barack Obama’s version of faith-based community initiatives, there has been such a widespread reluctance to question the basic assumption that government can spend money on religiously based enterprises without violating the First Amendment. The debate has instead focused on whether proselytizing or religious hiring discrimination should be permitted when church groups take public money. This shows how easy it is to institutionalize a bad idea based on unexamined assumptions about service to a greater good.

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