Separate Charity and the State
by Jacob G. Hornberger
In order to achieve a genuinely free society, the American people should be discussing and debating the following fundamental question: What should be the role of government in a free society?
Once that question is asked, the following questions naturally follow: Should government be involved in the business of charity? That is, should government be forcibly taking money from people in order to give it to other people? Should government be forcing people to care for the elderly, the poor, the needy, students, farmers, corporations, foreign regimes, and countless more?
I say that government has no more role in the charity business than it does in the religion business. The government doesn’t forcibly take money from people in order to give it to churches. Why should it forcibly take money from people to give it to everyone else?
One might respond, “But Jacob, the First Amendment prohibits the government from getting involved in the religion business. It doesn’t prohibit the government from getting involved in the charity business.”
Well, that’s true. But that doesn’t really address the relevant question: Why shouldn’t we place charity in the same category as religion? That is, given that we don’t permit government to get involved in the religion business, why not also prohibit the government from getting involved in the charity business?
As everyone knows, the Constitution provides for an amendment process. How about the following amendment that essentially tracks the wording of the First Amendment provision on religion: “No law shall be enacted respecting the establishment of charity or abridging the free exercise thereof”?
Why isn’t charity a proper function of government in a free society?
For the same reason that religion isn’t a function of government in a free society: People have the fundamental, God-given right to live their lives the way they choose, so long as their conduct is peaceful.
In other words, no murder, rape, theft, fraud, or other such acts that infringe on the right of others to live their lives the way they want.
Otherwise, anything that’s peaceful, including the freedom to decide what to do with one’s money, time, and resources.
Here’s a simple example. Oftentimes at grocery stores, the cashier will ask, “Would you like to donate a dollar to XYZ cause?” Some customers say yes and others say no. That’s what genuine freedom is all about — the right to make that call, one way or the other.
Suppose government enacted a law requiring everyone to say yes to the cashier. I think it would be easy to see that such a law would constitute an infringement on the right of people to say no.
In fact, that’s what genuine freedom is all about—the right to say no. If everyone is required by law to say yes, then people in that society cannot genuinely be considered free. Freedom entails the right to be selfish, greedy, uncaring, and irresponsible.
What would be the effect of a constitutional amendment that separated charity and the state? Immediately on enactment of the amendment, every single welfare-state program would be nullified. No more Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education grants, farm subsidies, FDIC insurance, foreign aid, and countless more. The constitutional amendment would effectively operate as a button which, when pushed, would instantaneously eradicate every single program in which the government takes money from people and gives it to others.
That means, of course, that people should also be free to keep everything they earn and to decide for themselves what to do with it. In fact, how about two constitutional amendments at the same time, one that separates charity and the state and the other that ends taxation on income?
Would Americans be caring and compassionate when free to make that choice? I don’t have any doubts about it. After all, they do a pretty good job of funding churches even though the government doesn’t force them to do so. Why wouldn’t they do the same in other areas?
But what matters above all is freedom. Why shouldn’t people be free to choose for themselves what to do with their own money, just as they are free to decide whether to go to church or not or fund churches or not.
Our ancestors did a wonderful thing for us when they separated religion and the state. How about we do the same for future generations by separating charity and the state?