Many states are pushing forward legislation to remove restrictions on the use of government funding for religious based activities or institutions. The argument in favor of such legislation claims preventing or restricting government money to religious organizations is an expression of religious bigotry and discrimination. That argument is a dangerous falsehood. Florida currently has this issue on their November ballot. Florida’s Amendment 8, titled “Religious Freedom”, is a misnomer to say the least. If this Amendment or others like it are passed they will actually be detrimental to Religious Liberty.
Amendment 8 is an effort to repeal the Blaine Amendment, a common provision in many state Constitutions. The Blaine Amendment reads in part:
“No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”
Opponents of the Blaine Amendment claim that the restriction upon using government funds for religious purposes or institutions is an attempt to discriminate against religions. The truth is the Blaine Amendment is rooted in principles dedicated to the preservation of Religious Liberty and the prevention of government intrusion into the church.
In our ignorance, we are repeating a battle in American history that our founders already fought and settled. Shortly after the ratification of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, several legislators, Patrick Henry being one, put forth a bill to pay Christian Teachers with tax dollars. The bill was titled, A Bill Establishing A Provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion. The purpose of this bill was to pay Christian teachers’ salaries out of collected tax revenue. Patrick Henry was a great defender of Liberty and an ardent Christian. In this case, his desire to defend the faith blinded him to the dangers of inviting the government into the church in the form of tax subsidies. Fortunately, there were other legislators present that knew the dangers of such an act, and their stand helped to clarify why good intentions can lead to dangerous destinations.
To understand why it is wrong for tax dollars to pay for religious activities, we must really think about the process as a whole. When the government pays a person or an organization to perform a service with tax dollars, that individual or organization places themselves under the oversight of the government, much like an employee. Since, tax dollars are not the property of the government but of the American people, the American people cannot allow the government to spend their money with no accountability. Therefore, regulation of government spending of taxpayer dollars is required. So, to take tax dollars invites government regulation, influence and control into the religious organization. In opposition to Henry’s Bill, an “Association of Ministers and Delegates” wrote this response:
"No man or set of Men are entitled to exclusive or separate Emoluments or Privileges from the Community but in consideration of Public Services. (Quoting the Virginia Declaration of Rights) If, therefore, the State provides a Support for Preachers of the Gospel, and they receive it in Consideration of their Services, they must certainly when they preach, act as Officers of the State and ought to be accountable thereto for their Conduct. . . .”
When tax dollars are spent, the organization using those funds becomes a quasi-government agent and thus opens itself up to government control. The government cannot allow the use of tax dollars in a way that will discriminate based upon criteria such as race, gender, religion, creed, etc. So if a religious organization accepts tax dollars for the performance of a service, the government must regulate that organization’s activity and prevent discriminatory practices. The organization can no longer perform its service free to the dictates of their religious convictions, but must adhere to a non-discriminatory practice as regulated and dictated by the government. In 1776, our founders believed that taking tax dollars into the churches was paramount to the destruction of religious liberty:
“the Consequence of this is, that those whom the state employs in its Service, it has a right to regulate and dictate to; it may judge and determine who shall preach; when and where they shall preach. The mutual obligations between Preachers and Societies they belong to . . . must evidently be weakened -- Yea, farewell to the Bill of Rights!”
There are two main problems with Amendment 8. First, proponents of Amendment 8 professes that individuals motivated by “religious convictions” often engage in the same types of services offered by the government and therefore should be eligible for government funding.
“WHEREAS, their religious convictions motivate some Floridians to establish religiously affiliated schools, hospitals, adoption agencies, and other benevolent institutions that provide valuable services to society and to receive or utilize such valuable services from these benevolent providers, which could be subsidized by the state through public programs,” (emphasis added)
However, the government’s benevolent services are not and cannot be motivated by religious convictions and they cannot provide religiously affiliated services because non-discriminatory requirements will not allow it. A private organization operating on religious conviction to establish religiously affiliated services will have to check those beliefs at the door, if they want to operate using government funding. To do otherwise would compel those who do not share those convictions to provide funding for them. This compulsion is unconstitutional and immoral.
“to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical;” Thomas Jefferson, The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom 1786.
By becoming funded by the government, the original intent motivating the Floridians to action is nullified and they are no longer able to operate with religious conviction under a religious affiliation.
The second problem lies within the first. Person’s acting upon “religious convictions” ought to also believe those religious convictions. To profess to operate under the conviction and direction of God and then demand the government to provide money, is a violation of the First Commandment.
“[using tax dollars for religiously based programs] tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honors and emoluments,” Thomas Jefferson, The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom 1786.
It tells a world of nonbelievers that even believers cannot trust God to provide for the needs of His children, and that all must rely on government. It takes a nation that pledges to be “one nation under God” and tells the world we are actually “one nation under government.” This shameful display of lack of faith undermines the believers dependence on God, and undermines the gospel itself, declaring to the world that God is NOT sufficient to provide for our needs on earth, so how can we trust Him with eternal things?
Religion not invented by human policy, must have pre-existed and been supported, before it was established by human policy. [Relying upon government provisions serves] to weaken in those who profess this Religion a pious confidence in its innate excellence and the patronage of its Author; and to foster in those who still reject it, a suspicion that its friends are too conscious of its fallacies to trust it to its own merits. James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance 1785
The true application of the principle of “separation of church and state” is one that was won with over 700 years of battle. (for a detailed study in the true application of this doctrine, read here) This principle, that teaches that government has no place in the church, is wrecked by the likes of Amendment 8, where Christians, themselves, beg for their own destruction. I am amazed that even in light of the current battle to keep the government out of our churches in the matter of healthcare mandates, that Christians can even consider demanding government money for programs established upon religious convictions. Haven’t we seen well enough that where the government is invited in, it will soon run the house? How can we with clear conscience declare the government has no right to force a religion to operate outside its conscience and provide healthcare contrary to its beliefs and with the same body demand the government give the church money?
“Well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion,” Thomas Jefferson, The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom 1786.
It is time for Christians of all denominations to live their testimony and show the world that we serve a living God who is sufficient in both eternal AND temporal things. How else can we be not just hearers of the word but also doers?
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:24, 30, 33
Christians, do what is right before God and vote NO on Amendment 8.