Mike Kueber's Blog

September 13, 2012

Secular government and government charity

Yesterday, while driving home 1400 miles from North Dakota, I had the opportunity to experience non-stop conservative talk radio – Rush, Ingraham, Hannity, Miller, and Levin.  I found Rush to be funny, Hannity earnest, Miller witty, and Ingraham panderous.  And Mark Levin was the Great One.

Levin pontificated provocatively on two subjects, and I disagreed with him on both.  His first provocation was his attack on the wall of separation between church and religion in America.  According to Levin, the wall of separation was constructed by Justice Hugo Black in a 1947 Supreme Court decision that referred to an 1802 letter written by Thomas Jefferson.  Levin then attacked the legitimacy of the doctrine by pointing out that young-lawyer Hugo Black was an anti-Catholic member of the KKK and that Jefferson had not been involved in the Constitutional Convention.  For his coup-de-grace, Levin pointed out that God was mentioned several times in our Founding document, the Declaration of Independence.

What Levin failed to note was that America’s ultimate Founding document, the U.S. Constitution, fails to mention God.  And its only reference to religion is contained in the First Amendment, where it prohibits the establishment of religion and guarantees the free exercise of religion.  Based on that Amendment, I don’t think it is unreasonable for a reasonable reader to conclude that our Founders did not want government involved in religion.

Levin concluded this segment of his show by noting that, although he doesn’t want America to become a theocracy, he feels just as strongly that he doesn’t want America to be a secular government.  I haven’t heard this issue posed that way before, and I am open to persuasion, but my initial inclination is that, based on a straight-forward reading of the Constitution, the Founders were creating a secular government.    

Levin’s second provocative topic was whether American government should engage in charity.  According to Levin, most liberals were extremely niggardly with their person charity, and they made themselves feel better by advocating vigorously for more charity from their government. 

Levin is correct that liberals aren’t as charitable as are conservatives, and there are numerous studies that confirm this.  Furthermore, it is indisputable that liberals want their government to be more charitable than do conservatives.  The question, however, that I hadn’t previously considered was whether government should engage in charity, and I think Levin is wrong to conclude it should not.

Charity is defined as the voluntary giving of help to those in need.  Obviously, the paying of taxes is not a voluntary giving, but despite Levin’s protestations, it is not unreasonable to respond that democratically advocating for higher taxes could be a form of voluntary giving.  Levin’s stronger argument, however, is that it is morally superior to make charitable contributions out of your assets than out of America’s tax base. 

I reject Levin’s position against government charity because most Americans, although they don’t want to encourage dependency found in welfare-state Europe, want their government to serve as the backstop for life’s vicissitudes, not a motley assortment of private, mostly religious charitable organizations.

I supposed these two issues – secular government and government charity – are related.  Ironically, as American government becomes more secular, it may expand into responsibilities previously held by religions.

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