Saturday, November 22, 2008

Faith-based shelters

New York City has just ordered 22 faith-based shelters to stop housing the homeless. The city is enforcing a rule that requires shelters to provide beds to the homeless at least 5 days a week. You may wonder why or how the city of New York would do this and it all seems to boil down to a simple, fundamental problem. Public funding.

One promise I hope Barack Obama does not follow through on is his promise to expand the availability of public funds to faith-based organizations. This was a bad idea pushed by George W. Bush and an even worse idea to continue it in anyway.

The first amendment allows people of faith to practice their religion without hindrance from government. This practice would also include housing the homeless as it states in Scripture:

For I was hungry
and you gave Me something to eat;
I was thirsty
and you gave Me something to drink;
I was a stranger and you took Me in;
I was naked and you clothed Me;
I was sick and you took care of Me;
I was in prison and you visited Me

For Christianity in particular the mandate is to care for the "least of these" in society. This is a fundamental practice for millions of Christians across denominational lines in this country. It is a practice that is protected in the First Amendment to the Constitution. So where does the city get off telling the churches they can't house the homeless? This is how.

The church or faith-based para church non-profit corporation receives public money. With public money comes regulation and with regulation comes rules. It would appear that the protections of the right to practice religion without hindrance is foggy once the government has a stake in that practice. In this case if the government is going to hand over money for shelter beds, then they want to see them open at least 5 days a week or be forced to shutdown. Is this fair? I say yes.

As I've stated before a fundamental aspect of libertarian thinking is understanding government as nothing more than an agency of force. It does not have the capability of being charitable, loving, caring, or nurturing. It uses money that it has the authority to take to govern people by enforcing laws...that's it. Libertarians don't hate government, but instead are forced to focus disgust for government because its current form governs outside of the realm of a truly free society. In a free society government would be expected to do only what it is capable of doing and people would be free to help each other in any way they saw fit as long as they don't initiate force.

What has happened in these 22 faith-based shelters is what you'd expect to see happen once they've partnered with an agency of force. They used money taken by force and are now forced to abide by rules. If they can't abide by these rules they are forced to close.

I'd love to see churches respond with underground "non-sanctioned" shelters to house the homeless. Like a speakeasy the homeless would find their way into these shelters outside of the watchful eye of a government that is bent on counting them in order to justify the need for funding. In the future I'd love to see New York City and others cities complain that because of church organizations they were unable to account for the true number of homeless because so many were being cared for outside of their jurisdiction...

...and finally the "least of these" would receive the love they deserve.

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