Reason Gets Unreasonable: Bailey’s Plan Won’t Fix Church-State Separation
Ronald Bailey of Reason Magazine thinks he has a solution to the church-state debate. And he does provide a truly reasonable tagline: “if churches want to be left alone, they should stop begging alms of the government.”
Rick Santorum’s crying about how “only people of nonfaith can come into the public square and make their case” is truly disingenuous; after all, as Bailey correctly and Reasonably points out, “How much more in the public square can one get than a closely watched campaign for the nomination as the presidential candidate of one of our two biggest political parties . . . on the national ABC News program This Week[?]”
The contraception conundrum has been the spark that lit this particular fire. In case you’ve not been following it, since 2000, all employers except churches were required to provide an insurance plan for their employees which included contraception — but allowed for co-payments by the employee. In 2012, the new rule required all these employers to offer plans with no co-payment. Catholics came unglued.
The Obama administration backpedaled, as we’ve come to expect, and moved instead to require the insurers to cover the cost of contraception. Thus, Catholics would not have to spend a dime on contraception.
But no! Not good enough! Catholics are still whining, and will continue to do so, as long as anyone, Catholic or not, has access to birth control. That’s the real goal, you see.
Bailey takes a historical look at the issue. “History shows that in the United States conflicts between church and state typically arise over how benefits supplied or mandated by government are distributed,” he says. True, particularly if you look at public education and social services. Government expects organizations providing education and social services with public money to follow certain guidelines about discrimination and indoctrination.
It’s a simple matter, really. If you don’t want to play by the rules, don’t put out your hand for the dollars. Easy, right? And quite Reasonable!
Unfortunately, Bailey quickly goes off the rails, recommending a “libertarian” solution which, while reducing the role of government in subsidizing religious organizations, would likely result in a greater volume of taxpayer dollars being directed to organizations which would then be free from anti-indoctrination regulation:
Consider public education. States and localities could collect tax dollars as usual and then offer school vouchers that parents could use to supply education to their children at whatever religious or secular school they choose. If states want to subsidize college students, they could again offer vouchers that students could use at whatever college or university to pay for their education.
Yep, hand them a voucher, and let public money flow directly into private, religious schools. I wonder how Bailey would feel if a slew of madrassas popped up, teaching Islam on the public dime?
Health insurance? The tax code could be reformed so that employers simply pay their employees the monies spent on health insurance policies and individuals would purchase whatever available private health insurance best fits their needs, including policies that cover contraception, abortion, sterilization, and stem cell treatments, etc. The poor could be provided with tax-financed vouchers to buy whatever private insurance they preferred.
I can’t say I’m sure how I feel about this one. At present, religiously-affiliated health insurance companies are mighty rare — outside of various religious organization self-insurance programs. How would this voucher system work in that case? Would the religious employer be able to say that the employee had to use the employer’s self-insurance? Once again, the employer would then be able to make health-care decisions for the employee.
That’s between doctor and patient, not doctor, patient, and patient’s boss.
Most public welfare services, say, job training, nutrition support, drug treatment, could also be converted into vouchers that recipients could redeem at whatever social welfare agency they think would work best for them.
My objection to this boils down to availability of services. Bailey lives in Washington, DC. Large urban areas will have a variety of service providers, religious and non-religious, to choose from. But what of those in smaller cities or in rural areas? There may only be a Salvation Army, or a church-run shelter.
Under Bailey’s plan, which apparently removes all government regulation on proselytizing or discrimination by those accepting public money, the Christian woman in Dearborn, Michigan might well have no choice but to go to the Muslim social services center and be preached to from the Koran before she can pick up a food box, or get job skills training. She may be told that she is a woman, thus should not be getting job skills training . . . or told that if she doesn’t want to hear about Muhammad, she will be ejected from the facility without food for her children.
Is that religious liberty? For the service provider, sure. For the vulnerable populations needing those services? It’s religious coercion. And under Bailey’s plan, it’d be funded by your and my tax dollars.
I do agree with Bailey’s closing:
Santorum may believe that breaching the famous wall of separation between church and state erected by the First Amendment is a good idea, but he is very wrong. Religious groups have always been welcome to make their cases in the public square, but if churches want to be left alone, they should stop begging alms of the government. It’s time to reverse the trend toward more church/state conflicts by protecting religious organizations from increasing financial dependence on government.
I particularly like that last sentence . . . but I didn’t see Bailey recommending that the tax exemption enjoyed by religious organizations be eliminated, and that’s the only case I see where they “depend” upon government financially.
Why not, Bailey? You’re right, if they want to be left to their own devices, they should not be supported in any way by the taxpayers. That means paying income taxes and property taxes, not getting free services (police, fire, roads, etc.) borne by the rest of us!
Want to be Reasonable? Start by eliminating the biggest “religious organizations” handout of all.