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Jewish World Review April 13, 2001 / 20 Nissan, 5761

Jim Wooten

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Consumer Reports

High Court grants another building block in the case for faith-based involvement in addressing the nation's social ills -- TAXPAYERS can continue to purchase care for the elderly from the First Church of Christ, Scientist, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed last week.

In deciding not to take an appeal claiming that Medicare and Medicaid payments to church-run health centers violates the constitutional separation of church and state, the Supreme Court shored up the foundation for Gov. George W. Bush's faith-based social service initiatives.

An advocacy group for another point of view sued and lost.The group's lawyer argued in appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court that "this case requires reversal before the siren song of its reasoning spreads in this era of rapidly replicating government programs yielding aid to religious entities."

The decision not to take the appeal is another building block in the case for faith-based involvement in addressing the nation's social ills -- which, incidentally, the country favors. In a poll released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, seven in 10 Americans favor government grants to religious groups to provide social services. The public does have reservations, though. Two-thirds worry government may meddle in religious organizations; six in 10 are concerned that religion may be forced on those getting help.

There's no question, however, that more, rather than less, effort needs to be made outside government to reweave the nation's social fabric. One of the sad legacies of the 1960s is the cultural assault on the values and the institutions that form the basis of healthy communities: personal responsibility, marriage, the family and religion among them.

Now there's no right or wrong. My failure is your fault. Any lifestyle choice is the equal of any other. Daddies are optional; a male who visits and brings a toy is meeting his paternal responsibilities. Conservatives of faith are narrow-minded and judgmental in a world where being "judgmental" is an offense of moral turpitude.

The problem with government remedies is that they're constructed to be studiously non-judgmental and, therefore, to require nothing of the individual. Check out the MARTA public transportation stations and Atlanta's newer public spaces. The MARTA stations are the most inhospitable, uninviting places around. Why? Because they were designed to discourage camping by derelicts and addicts, so they have no amenities that would attract humans, such as like benches. The downtown park at Five Points has benches, but the greenery is holly bushes, obviously selected to repel people.

Our every attempt in public policy has been to try to outsmart destructive and unwanted personal behavior. We won't judge which addicts are deserving of our money and rehabilitation efforts and which derelicts are unfortunates temporarily down on their luck. So we treat them all alike and ask nothing in return for our charity.

Help is an entitlement that comes without demands or expectations that has devolved into a social contract between providers and recipients: The provider gets the Mercedes and a warm feeling; the recipient gets non-judgmental support for chosen behaviors.

This is, of course, the cycle that we're in. Breaking that cycle, reinstilling and expecting personal responsibility, promoting healthy behaviors while discouraging those that are destructive, and rebuilding families and communities, is the most urgent need of our era.

Bringing about those changes requires a fundamental revision of the way we deliver services, whether those are education, health care, rehabilitation or family assistance. We buy the services that work and we buy them from any seller, faith-based, private, or public.

Comment on JWR contributor Jim Wooten's column by clicking here.

I03/29/01: It's tough being an adult in the land of sound bites and transfer payments
03/22/01: End Bar Association's say on nominees to federal bench
02/27/01: Stop punishing those who live responsibly
01/23/01: The language of opposition turns vicious
01/12/01: Practicing what she preaches was Chavez's only offense
12/14/00: Our divided nation --- and those who caused it
12/07/00: Honest labor is for chumps who can't talk and politic their way to wealth


© Jim Wooten