Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Milorad, Money, Church and State

Something about the state level of government kind of eludes me. I know enough about local governments to try to get people who understand science on school boards (which is to

say, barely anything) and the federal issues are all over the place, and so there's no way to really avoid them. I don't think I could tell you very much of what Tom Ridge or Ed Rendell

did when I was growing up in Pennsylvania, which was fine because I never voted for either of them. And then when I moved to Illinois, I lagged behind and had some issues with my registration, and so didn't vote in the last gubernatorial election.

Anyway, Blagojevich has gotten some criticism in the past for being fiscally irresponsible, which is sort of an enormous problem. If you're reading this and you're, let's say, Hal, you'll

probably say that that's a huge understatement, and I'd agree. But the purpose of introducing the fact that he's terrible with my money is to work us into the specific story that was

floating around on the Sun-Times this evening.

Blagojevich: $1M for church went to 'wrong place'

Ok, so right off the bat we're in a place where I'm a little confused. Why on earth is Blagojevich talking about money for a church?

It was $1 million in aid for the Pilgrim Baptist Church, which was located at Indiana Ave. and 33rd in Bronzeville,

was on the National Register of Historic Places and is credited as being the birthplace of gospel music, with Thomas A. Dorsey as music director and played host to Mahalia

Jackson, Aretha Franklin and the Staple Singers among others. All of that is fantastic and it deserves all the credit in the world for helping to pioneer a new genre of music. Sadly, it

burned down in early 2006. And that's awful. The church I went to when I was but a wee little blogger was consumed by fire about a year and a half ago, and the diocese has recently decided not to rebuild. It's taken a toll on the people who went there and destroys the sense of community the parish had, perhaps even moreso at a small church like Transfiguration because you know everyone that goes there.

So I agree that it's sad, and understand how the congregants at Pilgrim Baptist Church lost something when their church burned down, and how they'd want to rebulid. That doesn't mean that they should be getting government money.

Churches are, by definition, private organizations. They're allowed to exclude whomever they want, they can preach whatever they want (with some restrictions in the instances of priests drumming up political support for particular candidates, which is a bit of a separate issue) and they're making controversial statements about reality by their very nature. It must be the government's position to hold no position for or against any particular faith. This is not, as many on the religious right contend, some kind of attempt at instituting "state atheism" or whatever scare word they're using most recently. It is, rather, an integral part of protecting the freedom of every citizen to believe what they want to believe, completely seperate from what that belief system is, including no belief. Because it's intrinsic to the claim of any one religion that it is the sole source of truth, with the implication that all other religions are false, recognition or aid uses my tax money to help champion a religious belief I do not hold. Even within a larger religion (such as Christianity) there are disputes between Catholics and Baptists, Lutherans and Methodists. Using the money of an adherent of one sect to help champion the beliefs of another chips away at the adherent's ability to believe what he or she wishes. I have to wonder whether people who attempt to get prayer explicitly back in the schools would be as gung-ho about it if it were implied that there was going to be some time set aside to pray to Allah, or if school boards started proposing that the Zoroastrian creation myth be taught in science classes. Proponents of getting rid of the separation of church and state appear to have this idea that if that's done, they (the church) will be free to mandate what the state does, which is fine with them so long as they're the ones who are perpetually in the majority. As soon as it's proposed that another church might take power, that scenario doesn't look as appealing. Furthermore, intermingling the two would imply a reciprocity. It would allow the state to start to make demands of what the church does and how the churchgoers practice their faith, because, after all, it is the state's money, and for some reason I don't think that idea appeals to a lot of religious folk. It is absolutely in the interests of the religious to protect their ability to practice freely by supporting church/state separation.

Blagojevich attempts to get around the entire issue of a wall of separation between church and state with the following

The money is to be used for church administrative offices and educational purposes so as not to violate the separation of church and state.

which is absurd. Because you're helping to fund the people who are in charge of the church and giving money so that the church can educate children doesn't make that less of a violation of church/state separation. I'm not even sure how he was able to construe that so that he thought it made any kind of sense.

I'm not saying that the church shouldn't be rebuilt, or that it shouldn't be allowed to shout whatever it believes as loud as it can, but this is a matter for charity, not government intervention. I hope they do rebuild. I'm not going to contribute any money personally, because I don't believe what they do, but more power to 'em. Strengthening the marketplace of ideas is always a good time. Being as historic a church as Pilgrim Baptist was, I'm sure someone who isn't using my tax money can pony up and help rebuild, a scenario that isn't as likely for the tiny church in Russellton. Such a large church is going to be rebuilt, and it's mostly going to be done using charitable donations from the members of the church, as well as perhaps a few very large donors. It doesn't need tax money, and even if it did, it shouldn't get it. It violates the nature of the church as a private organization, which harms both those of us who do not belong to the church and those that do.

More bizarre than the fact that Blagojevich doesn't seem to understand the importance of church/state separation is the stunning incompetence he seems to display with money.

Governor Rod Blagojevich is giving $1 million to the historic Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago because the initial $1 million grant he pledged to the burned out church mistakenly went somewhere else.

What do you mean it went somewhere else? Letting aside the fact that he shouldn't have been giving state money in the first place, how do you lose the money and then pledge more state money?

His latest grant comes from available capital money he doesn't think has been earmarked for other purposes.

He doesn't think it's been earmarked for other purposes? Why in the hell is he guessing at this? Isn't this something you could look up? Are there stacks of millions of dollars lying around in Springfield, neither being returned to taxpayers or used for things that are breaking down, like the CTA for example?

Blagojevich says lawmakers don't need to approve the move.

At this point, I'm not taking him at his word anyway, but I'm pretty sure they do need to approve the move. You can't just keep tossing money around without, you know, consulting the people who represent the people whose money it is.

So yes. I'm not sure why he's giving them money anyway, but more than that, I'm not sure why he seems to be so cavalier with money he took from me.

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