A Second Look at First Freedom

On February 11, I discussed ten questions promoted by FirstFreedomFirst.org. “Donna” (whose identity I do not know) left the following comment:

Ari: I think that you have misunderstood a number of the issues. For example, we do not think that it’s fine for government to forcibly transfer wealth to religious groups. Many of the questions are designed to make you think about the issue and pose provocative questions. Please go to www.firstfreedomfirst and take a look at each of the ‘issues’ — just click on the issue button. The explanations are clear. You may or may not agree with them but please, try to understand what we are saying. The questions to candidates are, again, designed to provoke dialogue. Clearly, you need to ask those questions in a manner that is most comfortable to you. Donna

Unfortunately, First Freedom’s “explanations” do not support Donna’s claims.

Donna criticizes me particularly for my evaluation of First Freedom’s question about faith-based welfare. But my criticism of that question applies equally to the more-detailed write-up under “Talking About the Issues.” Here’s what First Freedom has to say on the matter:

No Religious Discrimination:

The First Amendment requires government to remain neutral on matters of religion. But the so-called “faith-based initiative” violates that constitutional requirement and anti-discrimination laws. Created without congressional approval, the program allots billions of taxpayer dollars to social services run by favored religious organizations, allowing them to exercise religious discrimination in hiring and to proselytize people in need.

Americans should never be discriminated against on the basis of our religious beliefs. Government-funded jobs must be open to all qualified applicants regardless of their opinions about religion. Publicly supported programs should never require anyone to take part in religion. Non-discrimination is the American way.

If religious organizations use government funds to provide social services, they must not discriminate in hiring on religious grounds or deny services to people based on beliefs about faith. For people to be denied participation in a publicly funded program because of their beliefs about religion is simply un-American.

Religious organizations may define the content of their community services and hire only those who share their faith tradition in privately funded programs if they wish. But when using our tax dollars, it is not right for faith groups to discriminate in employment or in the provision of services.

The problem is framed as one of “discrimination.” First Freedom does not criticize religious groups for taking tax dollars (or politicians for handing them out); First Freedom says only that “when using our tax dollars, it is not right for faith groups to discriminate in employment or in the provision of services.”

But my whole point is that politicians have no right to forcibly transfer wealth to religious organizations, period. Such forcible transfer of wealth is morally wrong in all circumstances, without exception, whether or not discrimination is involved.

As I wrote previously, I am pleased, with reservations, “to see First Freedom taking up the fight for the separation of church and state.” However, the organization is clearly leftist in its orientation. Not only does First Freedom at least tolerate (non-discriminatory) faith-based welfare, the organization also implies support for corporate taxation, tax-funded schools, and tax-funded research. I, on the other hand, advocate economic liberty along with religious liberty. Furthermore, I argue that, ultimately, the latter depends upon the former. By granting the legitimacy of expansive government control over our economic lives, First Freedom ultimately, implicitly and indirectly, undermines its own case for religious liberty.

Moreover, First Freedom explicitly endorses moral subjectivism as the alternative to faith-based politics. Consider the organization’s passage about abortion:

Reproductive Health:

All Americans must be free to make choices concerning their own health in keeping with their personal beliefs.

Opponents of reproductive freedom often seek legislation based on their own religious doctrines. Creating laws that are grounded in religious belief, however, conflicts with the separation of church and state and compromises our religious liberty. We must be allowed to live our lives according to our own beliefs.

At the center of the reproductive health debate are important questions about individual conscience. Decisions about family planning and emergency contraceptives should be resolved privately, based on our personal beliefs. Individuals may look to their own faith or other ethical considerations as they make these choices, but the government must never mandate that all Americans must follow the tenets of one religious viewpoint. …

“Personal beliefs… our own beliefs… personal beliefs…” Moral subjectivism is offered as the only alternative to “laws… grounded in religious belief.” First Freedom is doomed to failure because of this. In any cultural contest between religious moral absolutism and moral subjectivism, ultimately the former will tend to win out. What is needed instead is an objective and secular morality that demonstrates the legitimacy of laws grounded in individual rights.

It is simply not the case that “We must be allowed to live our lives according to our own beliefs,” regardless of the actions taken on the basis of those beliefs. The entire legitimate purpose of law is to forcibly prevent people from acting on beliefs in a way that violates the rights of others. Abortion bans are morally wrong precisely because they violate people’s rights. Any position instead based merely on subjective “personal beliefs” is destined to lose.

One thought on “A Second Look at First Freedom”

  1. I really like how you get to the essence of the political issues here. Liberals continue to evade the basic philosophic questions and hide behind the “pro-choice” mantra. But if we cannot know whether the choice involves murder or not (or even whether it has any legal implications), then some people, who do think they know, will act to stop such actions and make them illegal. The principled stand for individual rights is the only one that can win in the long term.

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