Why Trump should abolish the White House faith office
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As President-elect Donald Trump continues to vet and select members of his Cabinet, some complain is that he is selecting people who appear to want to abolish the very departments they are being appointed to oversee.

It’s not clear this is an explicit intention of Trump, but it is a point worth exploring. After all, a simple objection in principle to the abolition of departments not established by the Constitution is not an argument. It is an assumption.


Why can’t sane energy policies be developed and effectively implemented without a $30 billion bureaucracy to oversee it? Does anyone really believe that the Department of Education is indispensable to insure the education of children? Ever heard of parents?

All of which bring me to one suggestion for the incoming administration: Abolish the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

Even though there is long-standing precedent for government at all levels to contract with various church-affiliated organizations, such as the Lutheran Samaritas or Catholic Charities USA, these organizations end up going to great lengths to separate their services from their religious mission. This alters the genius of faith-based charities, their effectiveness and their very mission.

This well-intentioned subsidy obfuscates the nature of religious charities by incentivizing them to draw a stark line between their faith and their works. What animates believers to care for the poor is precisely their religious belief — not to serve the interests of the state, politicians and their bureaucracies.

Where believers see the human person as a living icon of God, bureaucracies tend to count numbers and see clients. Religious charities often shine best exactly when material help has failed. Believers seek to peer into the disordered soul and bring healing. The government is clueless here.

If the new administration wants to help faith-based initiatives, it needs to think outside the typical redistributionist box and loosen the shackles that inhibit the good that religious institutions can do. 

A variety of approaches are possible that could simultaneously protect the integrity of religious charitable institutions and encourage creativity and efficiency as well as the holistic amelioration of those in need.

Tax credits, for instance, could be given to any number of professionals (legal, medical, educational, child care, transportation, etc.) who render needed services to the poor. Or people could donate money from their IRAs, as proposed by Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE The real reason Scott Pruitt is gone: Putting a key voting bloc at risk Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers eye ban on Chinese surveillance cameras | DOJ walks back link between fraud case, OPM breach | GOP senators question Google on Gmail data | FCC under pressure to delay Sinclair merger review MORE (R-S.D.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSenate panel to vote Thursday on Trump's pick to lead IRS On The Money: US files complaints at WTO | House leaders get deal to boost biz investment | Mnuchin says US will consider Iran sanctions waivers | FCC deals blow to Sinclair-Tribune merger Senate GOP poised to break record on Trump's court picks MORE (D-Ore.) in the Charities Helping Americans Regularly Throughout the Year (Charity, S.B. 2750) bill they co-sponsored.

How about freeing up charities from all sorts of government interference? Why not reduce the myriad unnecessary regulatory hoops that many nonprofits work under?

Think how interventions that mandate access for the disabled in every circumstance can also impose impossibly high costs on homeless shelters, causing them to curtail or abandon good things that might have otherwise have been done. Or the ways in which some labor laws can inhibit growth of employment opportunities. Or how often soup kitchens must follow egregious regulations that do not make people safer or more nourished but merely impose a one-size-fits-all standard. Consider the example of the ban on unlicensed food trucks servicing the homeless and impoverished in Birmingham, Ala., and laws in more than 50 U.S. cities that ban sharing food with the homeless.

Note how these approaches do not require more taxpayer dollars. They would also circumvent debates over subsidies to religion.

The potential for real change in all of this is not legislative, but philosophical. A President TrumpDonald John TrumpShocking summit with Putin caps off Trump’s turbulent Europe trip GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE — who has made the point that private charities, not government, should be the resource of first resort — could go a long way to retrieving the American spirit of solidarity and local action on neighborly concern. The indisputable fact is that private charities have made the most profound changes in people's lives. 

A special White House office is not needed to achieve this reversal in thinking. What is needed is a clear philosophy — one that does not include putting charities on the federal payroll. 

Rev. Robert Sirico, author of “Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy,” is president of the Acton Institute.

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