Religious Charities' Self-Interest

By Smart, David B. | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), February 4, 1997 | Go to article overview

Religious Charities' Self-Interest


Smart, David B., St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


America's charities -- especially those that claim to be concerned about the poor and the needy -- are being dragged reluctantly into the 21st century. They are proving to be their own worst enemies.

Changes are occurring in the government's role in helping the poor, the sick and the needy. But charities - especially those affiliated with religious denominations - are in the forefront of resisting these changes. They do so at great risk to themselves.

Regarding proposed budget cuts by Congress, the head of Catholic Charities said, "We can't pick up what's going to happen, and it's unreasonable for Congress to talk like we can." Other church leaders have even harsher criticisms. A Maryland coalition of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish groups recently said it will not play a role in welfare reform. One minister said, "We will not participate in this dehumanizing, misguided effort called welfare reform." Another leader claimed that "government is trying to abdicate its responsibility and dump everything on us." In the 1980s, not-for-profit organizations descended on Washington to protest reductions in tax rates. They feared charitable giving would decline. It didn't. In Missouri, church-affiliated charities fought the Hancock II amendment, which would have given taxpayers more control over how their money is spent. And now charities are resisting the modest $500 tax credit in the Charity Tax Credit Act proposed by Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., and Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio. The credit would apply to charities whose primary purpose is "the prevention or alleviation of poverty." Why do these groups oppose welfare reform, budget cuts and changes in the tax code? Because they fear the loss of an important source of funding - grants and contracts from federal and state governments. For example, Catholic Charities receives more than 60 percent of its funds from government. Lutheran Social Ministries receives more than 90 percent of its funds from government. Perhaps they just find it easier to obtain money from one donor than from millions of the faithful. Religious charities place themselves in a vulnerable position with this dependency on government funding. It is a violation - at least in spirit - of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and of the theory of the separation of church and state. It ignores the biblical admonition to "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." Furthermore these organizations, which are in the business of charity, betray a lack of faith in what their own religions have to say about the responsibility all believers have to help the needy. …

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