February 8, 1009
On February 6, the blog section of the White House website announced a recent executive order signed by Obama establishing the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. “Instead of driving us apart, our very beliefs can bring us together,” Obama said on February 5 during the National Prayer Breakfast. “E pluribus unum, in other words,” the blog declared.
“Whether it’s connecting groups that are training people to do new jobs, or figuring out the role of faith-based organizations in combating global climate change, this office creates those partnerships in a way that’s responsible, constitutional, and — bottom line — helps those in need,” said Joshua DuBois, a Pentecostal pastor, social activist, and former campaign religious outreach director who was appointed to lead Obama’s faith-based initiative.
Mr. DuBois is apparently unaware of what the father of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, James Madison, had to say about such efforts.
On February 21, 1811, Madison argued against an effort by the House of Representatives to incorporate the Protestant Episcopal Church in the town of Alexandria, in the District of Columbia. Madison objected to the bill because it exceeded “the rightful authority to which governments are limited by the essential distinction between civil and religious functions, and violates in particular the article of the Constitution of the United States which declares that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting a religious establishment’… Because the bill vests in the said incorporated church an authority to provide for the support of the poor and the education of poor children of the same, an authority which, being altogether superfluous if the provision is to be the result of pious charity, would be a precedent for giving to religious societies as such a legal agency in carrying into effect a public and civil duty.” (Emphasis added.)
In a more general sense, no matter how worthwhile an end may be, if there is no constitutional authority to pursue it, then the federal government must step aside and leave the matter to the states or to private parties, as Robert A. Levy notes.
Obama’s executive order will extend by fiat to private religious organizations (see the list on the White House blog) the sort of “legal agency” Madison argued violates the spirit and letter of the Constitution. The job of “training people to do new jobs” or “combating global climate change” are not federal functions enumerated in the Constitution.
Obama’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships has nothing to do with jobs or climate change. It is simply another heavy-handed effort to insert the federal government in the lives of the American people.
Ronald Reagan may have betrayed the ideals of liberty and small government he claimed to profess, but he did say something that is particularly relevant to Obama’s latest effort to have the feds meddle in our lives: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'”