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The U.S. government further nationalizes over religion, liberalism takes another hit

(Cross-posted from Heidi Li’s Potpourri)

The proper relationship between markets and governments in a liberal state is a debatable one. Adam Smith, generally understood to be one of the major progenitors of modern laisezz faire economic-political theory, did not advocate for the absence of the government intervention in economic affairs. Indeed he felt that the state, via law, would be required to create efficient markets because, in the era in which he wrote, professions and financial institutions were dominated by private parties who had not achieved that domination through economic division of labor and competition – the hallmarks of the Smithean classical economic theory. Rather, professions and financial institutions were dominated by guilds and churches, among other groups, who had achieved their economic position not by virtue of serving the economic interests of the community well, but as a side-effect or perk of attaining power in other ways. Smith’s economic theory qualifies as liberal not because it advocates minimal government intervention in economic affairs, but because of its egalitarianism: Smith argued that in order to create equal opportunity for individuals pursuing their economic self-interest (which he believed would have the fortuitious effect of creating an overall efficient wealth creating economy), power had to be removed from the special interest groups of his day (the guilds, the churches, etc.) that denied that equal opportunity on grounds that had nothing to do with economic interests (e.g. excluding some people from some sorts of jobs on the grounds of the religion) or with simply shoring up economic self interest that was not being exercised within a system likely to maximize overall wealth creation.

Today, President Obama has signed an executive order creating “a revamped White House office for religion-based and neighborhood programs, expanding aninitiative started by the Bush administration that provides government
support — and financing — to religious and charitable organizations that deliver social services.” (See this New York Times article, also reprinted after the jump in this post for all quotations).

This is precisely the inverse of a Smithean approach to government and the economy. Wholly apart from questions related to the constitutionality of the expanded office and its powers, this inversion must be noted on grounds of its illiberalism. What the expanded office does is to advantage certain groups – faith-based ones – not on grounds of the likelihood of their contributing to efficient wealth production, but on the grounds that the President believes they are “good” and will do “good”:

“No matter how much money we invest or how sensibly we design our policies, the change that Americans are looking for will not come from government alone,” Mr. Obama said. “There is a force for good greater than government.”

Whether or not one agrees with President Obama’s metaphysics (if by forces for good he is referencing supernatural beings) or his confidence in the beneficence of organized religious groups (including, see article, The Church of Scientiology) has nothing to do with the illiberalism of the government funding religious groups to expand their resources for “to lift up those who have fallen on hard times,” as President Obama put it.

If one of the tasks for our society is to aid those who have fallen on hard times, we have two established, liberal ways to accomplish that task. We can entrust the job to the market, assuming that entrepeneurs will find a way to serve their own economic interest while helping others. Indeed, many mega-churches can be understood as doing just just this: they participate in the supply-and-demand cycle for charitable services, often advantaged by all sorts of tax-exemptions, not just on income but on property owned. Or we can choose to add social safety nets officiated over by civil servants acting directly on behalf of the state.

The Time article notes: “In announcing the expansion of the religion office, Mr. Obama did not settle the biggest question: Can religious groups that receive federal money for social service programs hire only those who share their faith?”

Sometimes a conspicuous lack of an answer tells us more than any answer could. The fact that this question – whether faith-based organizations who receive direct government funding to engage in economic activity may discriminate on the basis in their own hiring practices – has not been giving a resounding no tells us that there is not even aspiration to liberalism in this effort to further meld government and religion in this country. Recall, Smith specifically objected to the negative that churches had on the creation of efficient provision of goods and services because churches imposed noneconomically relevant criteria who could participate in the provision of those goods and services. President Obama’s new office flies in the face of this point.

Perhaps this is why his executive order was signed stealthily, “away from the view of television cameras or an audience”?


The New York Times
February 6, 2009
White House Faith Office to Expand
By JEFF ZELENY and LAURIE GOODSTEIN

WASHINGTON — President Obama signed an executive order Thursday to create a revamped White House office for religion-based and neighborhood programs, expanding an initiative started by the Bush administration that provides government support — and financing — to religious and charitable organizations that deliver social services.

“No matter how much money we invest or how sensibly we design our policies, the change that Americans are looking for will not come from government alone,” Mr. Obama said. “There is a force for good greater than government.”

In announcing the expansion of the religion office, Mr. Obama did not settle the biggest question: Can religious groups that receive federal money for social service programs hire only those who share their faith?

The Bush administration said yes. But many religious groups and others that are concerned about employment discrimination and protecting the separation of church and state had pushed hard for Mr. Obama to repeal the Bush policies.

Meanwhile, other religious groups were lobbying to preserve their right to use religion as a criterion in hiring. Some religious social service providers warned they might stop working with the government if they were forced to change policies.

Instead of deciding the issue, the president called Thursday for a legal review of the policy case by case before determining whether religious groups can receive government money and selectively hire employees based on their religious beliefs.

Mr. Obama told an audience in Ohio last summer, “You can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them.”

Joshua DuBois, a 26-year-old Pentecostal minister who led religious outreach for Mr. Obama during the presidential race, will direct the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Mr. DuBois said in an interview, “The president is still very much committed to clear constitutionality and legality in this program. He’s committed to nondiscrimination.”

But Mr. DuBois said that after Mr. Obama gave his speech in Ohio “we have realized there’s a tremendous lack of clarity in this area, so we’ll review on a case by case basis.”

“If we are consistently finding the same thing, and presenting the same recommendations to the president,” he said, then the administration might seek to recommend a change in the law.

Asked whether his office would work with religious groups outside the mainstream, like the Church of Scientology, that may seek government grants for social services, Mr. DuBois said: “There’s no picking or choosing or cherry-picking of groups. That was allowed before, but it will not be the practice moving forward.”

The president also announced the formation of a 25-member advisory council that includes religious leaders and heads of nonprofit groups, among them, several evangelical Christians, the president of Catholic Charities U.S.A., a rabbi, a Muslim community organizer and the openly gay director of a nonprofit group.

Mr. Obama, who spoke about his Christian faith frequently during his presidential campaign, said Thursday at the National Prayer Breakfast that religion should not be “wielded as a tool to divide us from one another.”

He called on believers of all faiths to set aside divisions “to lift up those who have fallen on hard times.”

“No matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate,” Mr. Obama told an audience of Republicans and Democrats, diplomats and members of the clergy. “There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know.”

Mr. Obama signed the executive order on Thursday away from the view of television cameras or an audience.

Jeff Zeleny reported from Washington, and Laurie Goodstein from New York.

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63 Responses

  1. We coulda had a Democrat this time, but nooooo!

  2. If these churches want government funds then they should no longer be tax exempt.

    WOMEN WITH INTELLIGENCE AND EXPERIENCE,MEN WHO SUPPORT THEM AND COUNTRY BEFORE PARTY ALWAYS

    PUMAS,BUBBAS, EQUALISTS AND THOSE PEOPLE RULE

  3. I hope that RD will send a communication to bo about the lack of constitutionality in funding faith based orgs to do their religion based work. If they don’t have to follow the same rules that traditional and constitutional groups do to get government funding, then they should not get it. This will erode the funds available to groups who comply with federal hiring requirements.

  4. myiq2xu, on February 5th, 2009 at 10:05 pm
    It is surreal, except that so many of us predicted it.

  5. O/T and reposted from thread regarding Justice Ginsburg:

    Heidi Li, on February 5th, 2009 at 9:44 pm Said:

    I know Ruth Bader Ginsburg slightly, and her husband, Marty Ginsburg, who is my colleague on the Georgetown faculty rather better. They are wonderful people, and of course my heart and thoughts are with them. A humble suggestion: If you care to send 51 Percent any amount (including .51 cents, with a message of support for Justice Ginsburg, not only will that be noted on the website, but I will make sure that all results and messages reach Justice Ginsburg). See http://www.fifty-one-percent.org or http://www.heidilipotpourri.com to make a donation.(Donations made through google checkout on 51 Percent website are tax deductible, to the extent permitted by law.) Send any message of support to 51percent51 at gmail dot com.

  6. Have I mentioned how much I loathe this empty headed empty suit lately?

  7. Heidi Li
    I posted a comment on your site about two bills introduced for ERA . One in Missouri and one in Arkansas.
    Both bills introduced by women.
    I think a little help could be used to get them passed. Then it would only be one state short.

    WOMEN WITH INTELLIGENCE AND EXPERIENCE,MEN WHO SUPPORT THEM AND COUNTRY BEFORE PARTY ALWAYS

    PUMAS,BUBBAS,EQUALISTS, AND THOSE PEOPLE RULE

  8. It is surreal, except that so many of us predicted it.

    For a long time I thought the GOP liked Obama because they wanted an incompetent Democrat in the WH to take the blame.

    It was the financial crisis that convinced me that Obama is a mole.

  9. Have I mentioned how much I loathe this empty headed empty suit lately?

    Yes, but don’t let that hold you back.

  10. he has no home.

  11. angie – did you see my last email in response to afrocity’s question? It’s a shocker

  12. (sigh)

  13. Heidi Li….{{waves}}

  14. I heard today that in the “Stimulate Nothing” Bill the education portion would not be given to ANY school that has pray as part of it’s program.
    If this is true ti falls under…..”WTF”!!

  15. Constitution??? That old piece of paper?

    Never mind — that oath of office was a f***ing waste of time.

    Yes WE knew that this would happen — it isn’t surprising.

    This is what happens when the “virgin” in the wh0re house is elected.

  16. SOD — yes, I believe I am all caught up now. Unbelievable.

  17. Does anyone know of any good women’s health blogs i can go to ask other women for medical advice?

  18. afrocity — how about going to the doctor? You don’t know what kind of kooky advice you’ll get from the internet.

  19. Ok gang — I’m going to bed! Good night all!!

    xoxo

  20. I did and she gave me ” i will leave the decision up to you answer”

  21. geeze angie it is only 11PM

  22. Hard to say. Already, the fighting between Speaker Pelosi and Obama seems underway.

  23. Afrocity: have you been on Medline or the Mayo Clinic sites?

  24. so few folks spend any real time reading Adam Smith, he get’s a bad rap and the folks that refer to his philosophy corrupt his basic argument …

    thx, heidi … great piece!

  25. afrocity: have you talked to scrubs?

  26. sorry, OT but I am watching Jim Cramer on Mad Money on CNBC he is totally slamming pelosi and reid. “Last time I looked we didn’t vote for Pelosi for President”. Talking about how China’s stimulus package is working because the government officials in charge are afraid to be BEHEADeD! that is a true stimulus. “The chinese mean business, we mean politics”
    He cannot believe that obama is letting reid and pelosi handle the stimulus package.

  27. I will go to medline, looking for info on polyps and arguments for keeping or removing

  28. This faith-based initiative crappe does not bode well for those of us who are FERVENT, absolute 100 percent believers in separation of church and state. Obama’s insistence on hauling the cross onto the White House lawn is part and parcel of his unceasing attempts to paint a halo above his own flipping head. Those who are sincere about and secure in their personal religion are generally quiet about the whole matter. Obama, the eternal showboating sham, uses religion just like he uses everyone and everything – for his own ends. Damn, but I despise this man.

  29. One of the people Obama named to the advisory board:

    ” Rev. Frank Page, a past president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
    The Rev Page on Gays:
    “Hunt vowed the SBC would remain committed to opposing issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, such as marriage and adoption, but would continue to “minister” to the LGBT community. According to the outgoing president, the Rev. Frank Page, the SBC “heavily supports” Exodus International, a so-called “ex-gay” organization whose practices have been condemned by every major medical and psychological organization.”

    The good Rev on women:

    ” “I do very much hold to the belief that God does gift women for ministry, but my belief is very consistent with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, that while women are indeed gifted by God in a variety of roles and ministries, the role of pastor is held only for the male,” Page told the Witness.

    Page said that he believes only men can be pastors because “it’s an authority issue. To have women serving as pastor would be to put that woman in spiritual authority over men and I think Scripture clearly prohibits that.”

    But that “Baptist Faith and Message 2000″ that he mentions goes beyond just the roles of women in the ministry. It describes how they should act in all aspects of life:

    Article XVIII. The Family…A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.

    http://garychapelhill.wordpress.com/2009/02/05/yet-again-obama-proves-he-is-a-homophobic-misogynist/

    Obama has no intention of reversing the 2002 Bush exec order that allows these kooks to discriminate against anyone they please.

  30. i spent huge portions of my young life going to oklahoma and missouri trying to get the era passed … wow, that seems forever

  31. afrocity: i can ask my daughter ….

  32. I thought Obama was suposed to protect us from Sarah and her scary voodoo religion. And from Hillary and her scary Senate Bible Group.

  33. I would appreciate any opinions.
    I never had surgery
    very afraid but what if it becomes cancerous
    what if it is reason I cant conceive
    just worried/confused

  34. Wow–

    Okay — Why would it be okay for an organization to discriminate on who they hire while providing services to a Citizen, which they get federal money for, and what will stop this organization from discriminating on who they will service? This might sound harmless but when you wrap this with the HHS rule change (which has not been halted as of yet– it’s *under-review) it’s a slippery slop.

    This expansion is a payback to those who helped Obama get elected.

  35. afrocity: left her a message, she might be delivering a baby or something, i’ll see if i can get her on over here when she calls back

  36. afrocity – I can answer any gynecological questions.

    Heidi or one of the mods: can you send afrocity my e-mail address please?

  37. scrubs can prolly help too

  38. angienc2, on February 5th, 2009 at 11:00 pm Said:

    afrocity — how about going to the doctor? You don’t know what kind of kooky advice you’ll get from the internet.
    **************
    Angie gives good advice..

  39. Heidi Li, on February 5th, 2009 at 10:21 pm Said:
    O/T and reposted from thread regarding Justice Ginsburg:
    Heidi Li, on February 5th, 2009 at 9:44 pm Said:
    I know Ruth Bader Ginsburg slightly, and her husband, Marty Ginsburg, who is my colleague on the Georgetown faculty rather better. They are wonderful people, and of course my heart and thoughts are with them. A humble suggestion: If you care to send 51 Percent any amount (including .51 cents, with a message of support for Justice Ginsburg, not only will that be noted on the website, but I will make sure that all results and messages reach Justice Ginsburg). See http://www.fifty-one-percent.org or http://www.heidilipotpourri.com to make a donation.(Donations made through google checkout on 51 Percent website are tax deductible, to the extent permitted by law.) Send any message of support to 51percent51 at gmail dot com.
    ********************************************************

    Great idea Heidi, I have already sent ating money to F.O.R.C.E. “Facing our Risk of Cancer Empowered” but you can count me in for some more $$ to 51% in Justice Ginsburg’s honor!

    BRCA1 and 2 mutations run (or I should say, gallop( through my family. My mother and my grandmother died of ovarian cancer, one of my siblings tested positive for it as well. There are a few populations where these mutations are prominent, one being Ashkenazi Jews. Women with the BRCA1 genetic mutation face an 80% increase in risk of getting breast cancer and a 50-60% increase in ovarian cancer. There are also increased risks for pancreatic cancer and prostrate cancer in men. It can be passed to both male and female offspring.

    FORCE’s purpose is “To improve the lives of individuals and families affected by hereditary breast and ovarian cancer”

    To this end, FORCE has eight mission objectives:

    To provide women with resources to determine whether they are at high risk for breast and ovarian cancer due to genetic predisposition, family history, or other factors.
    To provide information about options for managing and living with these risk factors.
    To provide support for women as they pursue these options.
    To provide support for families facing these risks.
    To raise awareness of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
    To represent the concerns and interests of our high-risk constituency to the cancer advocacy community, the scientific and medical community, the legislative community, and the general public.
    To promote research specific to hereditary cancer.
    To reduce disparities among underserved populations by promoting access to information, resources and clinical trials specific to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
    .

    http://www.facingourrisk.org/

  40. ah, speak of the doctor!

  41. Yeah, it’s getting close to zombie time so I’m here.

  42. Okay, I’ll send you a message, afrocity.

  43. could someone figure out why my last post is in moderation? must be something I am missing, perhaps I put in a word or symbol not allowed? cannot for the life of me figure out what it could be though.

  44. Sent you a message, afrocity. I have to go pick up kids and run some chores in about 20 minutes so, if you can’t get right to it, don’t worry – I’ll catch up with you in a few hours, okay? (You aren’t having surgery overnight, are you?)

  45. Scrubs, i got your message and replied. Thanks.

  46. Who so silent, everyone?

  47. Cause I am essentially brain dead from work, and headed for bed , but i am responding in my dreams I promise you

    and Afrocity , you can email me too if you like 🙂

  48. Swanie,

    I don’t know your email

  49. Afrocity – if you are still around, you’ve got mail. Sorry but it’s a long one.
    scrubs

  50. myiq: who is Melissa, commenting on your site? One of your fave followers? 😉

  51. who is Melissa

    A tranny from Balloon Juice

  52. Ah…You do have followers. 😆

  53. OK, just back from Balloon Juice. Like walking thru the Tenderloin for the first time. I need a shower.

  54. Up late at night again – just me and the boys.

  55. My wife used to have a studio on Polk and Pine. We had to take showers together in the mornings because the hot water ran out after about a minute.

  56. scrubs57, on February 6th, 2009 at 3:32 am Said:

    Up late at night again – just me and the boys.

    What’s a gal to do, eh?

  57. Hope everyone’s alright, resting.

    Not late in Asia. Busy, busy, bailing water from their economies, like us I guess.

    People always say Sydney is just like San Francisco. Looking forward to visiting one day.

  58. Thinking of driving from Alabama to New Orleans later this month. Need to first figure out how to get our puppy to Birmingham.

  59. Like walking thru the Tenderloin for the first time.

    Yeah, they’re “special”

    It’s like GOS without the civility or wit

  60. New thread up

  61. Three Wickets–Would suggest Wellington, NZ rather than Sydney–if you are looking for SF. Would suggest NZ (Godzone) anytime. Auckland is my favorite place in the outside world. Nothing wrong with The Land of Oz –but the natural beauty is long distances apart there. In NZ it is short drives.

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