Saturday, June 12, 2004

The problem with Mixing Church and State

Why did several congressmen participate in a ceremony crowning Rev. Moon as the new Messiah?

I think it's safe to say that the congressmen involved likely had no idea what was going on, only that a potentially huge source of campaign contributions and press support wanted their presence at some kind of award ceremony.

But it illustrates why programs that mix church and state are a really bad idea: whatever the Catholics and the Methodists get from the government, the Moonies, Hare Krishna, and Scientologists will get too. (It is _always_ unconstitutional for the government to pick and choose between religions based on their beliefs). Do your opinions of Bush's Faith-based charities program change when the money is going to the Moonies instead of to Catholic charities?

Similar problems are likely to affect school vouchers. I support school vouchers and choice wholeheartedly, since I don't think the neighborhood you live in should be the primary determinant of the educational opportunity the government provides for you. But, when applied to religious schools, there are a lot of unpleasant groups that I'd rather not see getting government funding. IMHO, this issue will eventually lead to sweeping government influence over private, voucher-subsidized schools. At a minimum, it will prohibit racial and religious discrimination. At a maximum, it could lead to federal curriculum standards dictating the content of history courses, requiring trendy methods of teaching math, and raising lots of constitutional questions.

In the case of school vouchers, the fact that parents have to choose the schools will limit the worst abuses of the system. For faith-based charities, though, as the saying goes "[the needy] can't be choosers."