© Original content written by James R. Carlson
Remember that the Progressive Party Lost this Election Nationwide
Government run charity has an odd history. It was once practiced in the 18th century under the rule of a State Church where funding was given to the Church by State taxation. Tithing to fund American Churches was not practiced until the mid-1800s. This was after the separation of Church and State in Revolutionary Virginia (1786) led to the complete disestablishment of State Churches everywhere in the United States by 1833. Afterwards, Churches sought new income via new methods such as tithes and offerings. This allowed for the funding of more social work and eventually to social gospels that characterized much of the American Church in the early 1900s. However, as Church/State separation removed the payment of tithes and offerings to fund State run charitable activities in the 18th century, we’ve witness a renewal of such funding of State run charities by taxation. It’s called the New Deal. The social gospels were incorporated into the Progressive Movement that led to the New Deal of the mid-1900s. And the work of the New Deal is in violation of the separation of Church and State.
Following the War for American Independence and the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain politically, came another movement for America’s Independence from the State Church of England. Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration in 1776, also drafted a Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia in 1777. Following principles from luminaries of the past like Roger Williams, Jefferson’s ‘Bill’ drew the attention and support of fellow Virginian James Madison.
Madison would eventually help draft the Constitution of the United States and the First Amendment to that constitution in 1791 that included the provisions for religious freedom. But in 1784, as Patrick Henry introduced as Bill that would fund the Teachers of the Christian religion with taxpayer dollars, Madison sprang into action following Jefferson’s Bill and principles and circulated his own Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments. His work proved successful in January 1786 when the Commonwealth of Virginia removed control of the Church in Virginia from the Virginia Legislature.
Madison’s Memorial outlined 15 arguments against taxing people to fund religion through the government. A few are presented here:
7 Because experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of Religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution. Inquire of the Teachers of Christianity for the ages in which it appeared in its greatest luster; those of every sect, point to the ages prior to its incorporation with Civil policy. Propose a restoration of this primitive State in which its Teachers depended on the voluntary rewards of their flocks, many of them predict its downfall. On which Side ought their testimony to have greatest weight, when for or when against their interest?
11 Because it will destroy that moderation and harmony which the forbearance of our laws to intermeddle with Religion has produced among its several sects. Torrents of blood have been spilt in the old world, by vain attempts of the secular arm, to extinguish Religious discord, by proscribing all difference in Religious opinion. Time has at length revealed the true remedy. Every relaxation of narrow and rigorous policy, wherever it has been tried, has been found to assuage the disease. The American Theater has exhibited proofs that equal and complete liberty, if it does not wholly eradicate it, sufficiently destroys its malignant influence on the health and prosperity of the State. If with the salutary effects of this system under our own eyes, we begin to contract the bounds of Religious freedom, we know no name that will too severely reproach our folly. At least let warning be taken at the first fruits of the threatened innovation. The very appearance of the Bill has transformed “that Christian forbearance, love and charity,” which of late mutually prevailed, into animosities and jealousies, which may not soon be appeased. What mischiefs may not be dreaded, should this enemy to the public quiet be armed with the force of a law?
12 Because the policy of the Bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity. The first wish of those who enjoy this precious gift ought to be that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind. Compare the number of those who have as yet received it with the number still remaining under the dominion of false Religions; and how small is the former! Does the policy of the Bill tend to lessen the disproportion? No; it at once discourages those who are strangers to the light of revelation from coming into the Region of it; and countenances by example the nations who continue in darkness, in shutting out those who might convey it to them. Instead of Levelling as far as possible, every obstacle to the victorious progress of Truth, the Bill with an ignoble and unchristian timidity would circumscribe it with a wall of defense against the encroachments of error.
Madison was saying in essence that to support charity (11) and religious instruction (7) by government funding would cause people to be less likely to contribute to the Church (7); and forcing people to attend Church would make people less likely to do so (12).
The Baptists in Virginia echoed the sentiments of Madison and circulated his Memorial and their own Memorials saying the same thing. Baptists, like Jefferson and Madison, were familiar with Roger Williams who built the first Baptist Church in North American in his colony of Rhode Island. They each followed his basic tenants for religious freedom, which is why Jefferson quoted Williams when writing to the Baptists in Connecticut in 1802. Religious freedom meant an end to government taxation for funding the religious or charitable work of the Church through the State; a separation of Church and State. This allowed the freedom of the Church to flourish and do more than the state could do by tax or force.
However, the Church that was once funded by the State had to discover new methods of raising funds to pay for religious and charitable work. Renting or selling pews, annual subscription of members, and other methods were tried until the collecting of tithes was chosen as the best resource. Until then, the American Church had not been funded by the voluntary giving of tithes; this was just before the Civil War. Voluntary funding of the religious institutions of the Church helped pay for aid to the poor, the sick, and other needy functions that the State once provided to the Church by taxation.
While these good works are laudable, they opened the door to a new type of gospel called the Social Gospel. While the message of Jesus included aid to the poor and the sick, his message was one of salvation not social justice. Good works are good but they are not necessary for salvation. Charity is a fruit of salvation but not necessary for one’s eternal redemption.
However, social gospel movements that focused more on charity than on salvation led to Social Gospels in distinction to the salvation Gospel of Jesus Christ. These were incorporated into the political movement call Progressivism, which became the foundation for the New Deal in the 1930s. And it was from the strong-arm politics the New Deal that changed the way government has handled the issues of Welfare ever since.
Written into the U.S. Constitution is the idea of promoting the general welfare. It is first found in the Preamble to the Constitution.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The idea of ‘general welfare’ came from the reformation. John Calvin’s Commentary on Psalm 145:14 presents his view of ‘general welfare.’
Jehovah upholding all the falling. He gives instances of the goodness and mercy of God, such as make it evident that God reigns only for the promotion of the general welfare of mankind. By the falling, and those who are bowed down, he means figuratively those who are overwhelmed by adversity, and would sink at once, were not God to extend his hand for their support. God, in short, has respect to the troubles of men, and helps such as are in distress, so that all ought not only to look upon his divine government with reverence, but willingly and cordially submit themselves to it. Another lesson taught us is, that none will be disappointed who seeks comfort from God in his affliction.
This idea of ‘general welfare’ is also found in the Constitution in Article 1, Section 8, and is often referred to as the General Welfare clause.
The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States.
Madison and Jefferson both understood General Welfare as limiting the spending powers of the government, not expanding them limitlessly. The Constitution prescribes what spending powers the Congress has and it limits those powers to the list of enumerated powers.
Congress has power to spend tax money for the General Welfare, which is spelled out in detail. This was meant to support the general needs of people and not specific needs. The work of aiding the poor and the sick was considered to be special welfare, not general welfare, and not within the powers of the government. However, the New Deal broke with this legal tradition and began a new course of legislation for our country.
The New Deal Congress had new political powers during the Great Depression. Along with the New Deal President, Franklin Roosevelt, they used these new powers in a nearly dictatorial manner. The Supreme Court, however, blocked much of their New Deal legislation as un-Constitutional. But they too would bend to the force of political power about to be used against them.
In 1936 in United States v. Butler, the Court said that Congress was in violation of the 10th Amendment and overruled the legislation for farm appropriations. Although this limited the New Deal’s efforts, this decision opened the doors for broad spending powers of Congress within the General Welfare Clause. Special welfare was still not allowed, only general welfare; but that too would soon change. Leading the cause against the New Deal legislation was Justice Roberts whose vote broke a tie between the liberals and conservatives on the Court.
However, two months after President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced his court-reform bill, Justice Roberts, who opposed New Deal legislation, changed his votes to support New Deal legislation in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish (March 1937). In this case, Justice Roberts stood with the liberals and broke ranks with the conservatives to support minimum wage legislation. This ended the era where the Court prevented government intrusion into private business affairs. Robert’s apparent change of heart has since been called a, “switch in time that saved nine,” when faced with Roosevelt’s court packing scheme of appointing new justices to bring the court to 15 members.
Later that same year, Roberts supported the majority in Helvering v. Davis (May 1937) that approved of Social Security stating Congress had broad powers for spending tax dollars on General Welfare and that it did not contravene the 10th Amendment. While many objected to this and other New Deal legislation on the grounds that they were supporting Special Welfare and not General Welfare, the Supreme Court no longer objected to the aggressive Acts of a New Deal President and Congress.
These rulings in the mid-1930s have opened the door to tax funded government charities that should have been left to the Church and not run by the State. These Acts have led to a combination of Church and State in violation of the principles spelled out by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson in Revolutionary Virginia. As such, one may easily regard the use of tax funded government run charities as a violation of the separation of Church and State.
As predicted by Madison and others, government run religious functions cause people to grow weary of their measures and less likely to support them. The charity to the poor has grown to become an entitlement of the state to poor people who are now slaves of the welfare state. Those who rely upon the charity of the State for health care do so with little value in that care. Medicine has become less of a charity and more of a business. Many more activities that should belong to private charities have been undermined by the work of the State charities. The willingness of people to give to charities has been undermined. And the social mores of our country have gone downhill as the government led by the social gospel of the New Deal Progressives have progressively dismissed the morals of the Bible and the purpose of salvation in the Gospel, which is the forgiveness of sin.
It may be too much to ask our present Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Roberts, to return to the decision in King V. Burwell (2015), in which he proclaimed the Affordable Care Act (ACA or ObamaCare) to be a tax. It remains for the Court to decide if that tax is Constitutional according to Article 1, Section 8.
It would probably be too much to ask the Court to reverse New Deal decisions 80 years ago and return to a Constitutional prescription of government that leads to the legal health of our nation. But as we will have a new President under a new Congress perhaps they can ask for a review of the Court’s decision; perhaps we could get a ruling that overturns the entire New Deal foundation and limits General Welfare to those spending powers enumerated in Article 1, Section 8. This may be the last best opportunity to overturn the ‘switch in time that saved nine’, to limit the work of ‘government run charity’ for ‘special welfare’, and overturn ObamaCare. But will they do it? One can always ask.