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In fight over Protestant-only foster agency, lawsuit asks: Who is a Christian?

The front office of Miracle Hill Ministries in Greenville, S.C. RNS photo by Yonat Shimron

(RNS) — Growing up in the South, Aimee Maddonna was aware of its jaundiced views of Catholics.

But even she was shocked by the persistence of Catholic bias when she applied four years ago to be a mentor to foster children at a group home run by Miracle Hill of Greenville, S.C., an evangelical ministry.

Before jotting her signature on a form, Maddonna was asked by the volunteer coordinator at Miracle Hill what church she goes to.

“Our Lady of the Rosary in downtown Greenville,” she replied, citing the name of her Catholic church.

And with that, her application was summarily rejected.

“It didn’t strike me as something that was a possibility,” said Maddonna, the mother of three children.

Aimee Maddonna’s suit against both the federal government and the South Carolina government accuses them of allowing Miracle Hill Ministries to unconstitutionally discriminate against non-Protestants. Photo courtesy of Americans United

For many Catholics in the Upstate, the 10-county westernmost region of South Carolina, Catholic bias is a startling yet eerily familiar part of being a minority amid a vast sea of Protestants.

While there’s no overt hostility, some local Catholics say, it lurks like a shadow.

“It’s a pretty common belief here in the South that Catholics are not Christian,” said Maddonna.

“You get to chatting with somebody and they’ll ask, ‘Where do you go to church?’” said Maddonna. “You tell them and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I’ll pray for you,’ or ‘Have you thought about becoming Christian?’”

The Catholic Diocese of Charleston has accepted this reality. Last week it issued a statement saying it supports government’s decision to allow Miracle Hill to discriminate against Catholics in its foster care program.

But Catholics like Maddonna are fighting back.

Earlier this month (Feb. 15), Maddonna sued the federal and state governments, accusing them of allowing Miracle Hill Ministries to unconstitutionally discriminate against non-Protestants. The suit challenges a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services exemption that allows all foster care agencies in South Carolina to disregard a regulation barring religious discrimination in federally funded foster care programs.

“The United States government and the government of South Carolina have enabled, sanctioned, and continued to fund the organization’s preference for one religious group above all others in the provision of governmental services, to the detriment of the children that the State contracts with those agencies to serve,” reads the suit, filed in U.S. District Court.

Miracle Hill has also turned down Jews and other non-Protestants who applied to mentor or foster children.

But the agency’s refusal to work with Catholics places the government in the middle of a battle over who is the right kind of Christian, according to Maddonna’s lawsuit, filed by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

For much of the past 50 years, Protestants and Catholics have resolved battles that led European Protestants and Catholics to wage wars for centuries.

The U.S. elected John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president, in 1960, and in the following two decades, heated social conflicts over sexual morality and abortion led many Catholics and Protestants — especially conservatives among them — to see each other as allies in a political fight that transcended theological arguments.

At the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., for example, Catholics and evangelicals have marched alongside one another for years. More recently, the legalization of same-sex marriage has led both to invoke religious freedom as the new bulwark against society’s liberalizing trends.

Rick Warren, a Southern Baptist megachurch pastor in California, cultivated deep ties to several Catholic bishops and was a guest of honor at the Vatican a few years ago.

But in South Carolina, where a stricter, fundamentalist Protestantism predominates, bias against Catholics persists.

Miracle Hill, the largest provider of care to the needy in the Upstate, runs a vast network of homeless shelters, thrift stores, drug-recovery programs and a foster care agency. While it takes no government money for its adult programs, four years ago the ministry began accepting federal and state dollars for its foster care program.

Miracle Hill CEO Reid Lehman. Photo courtesy of Miracle Hill

Last year, it received about $600,000 in public funding.

But Miracle Hill doesn’t view itself as a social service agency. It is first and foremost a ministry and chooses to allow only churchgoing Protestants —  “born-again Christians,” in its parlance — to staff the ministry, volunteer and foster children.

“We are an arm of the Protestant church,” Reid Lehman, Miracle Hill’s CEO, told Religion News Service recently. “We exist to be a mission arm of Protestant churches and to proclaim Protestant faith. It’s not a judgment or an exclusion. It’s simply that we’re going to be consistent with that.”

Lehman, like his father who preceded him as CEO, graduated from Bob Jones University, a bastion of Christian fundamentalism, just five miles away from the Miracle Hill offices.

Bob Jones Jr., the school’s former president, was a known for his hostility to the Catholic Church, calling it “a satanic counterfeit,” for example, and “drunk with the blood of the saints.”

In 1987, when St. John Paul II visited South Carolina and held an ecumenical service at the state university’s football stadium, Bob Jones’ leaders protested.

Historically, Protestants have objected to the office of the pope; devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and to the saints, which some Protestants see as a form of idolatry; as well as several doctrines, including justification by faith, which Catholics and Protestants understand differently.

Catholic priests in the Upstate have tried for years to team up with Miracle Hill on a host of social service projects, with no success.

Many said they admire the ministry’s commitment to the poor and the quality of its programs. (One of the ministry’s addiction recovery programs is actually based in a former Catholic monastery.)

The Diocese of Charleston even issued a statement affirming its support for the government waiver that allows Miracle Hill to refuse to license people who don’t share its faith, in part, some priests suggested, because it wants the ability to wield its own religious freedom claims.

“The Catholic Church has theological disagreements with Miracle Hill Ministries; however, we applaud their remarkable service to the poor and hope that they will continue and succeed in that service in our community,” the diocesan statement said.

These days, local priests take a live-and-let-live approach with Miracle Hill.

“The old battle lines have settled into a form of uneasy but quiet coexistence,” said Jay Scott Newman, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville. “People are just getting on with Christian life and faith in their own communities.”

About the author

Yonat Shimron

Yonat Shimron is an RNS National Reporter and Senior Editor.

118 Comments

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  • The criteria for that exclusion is above. My brother-in-law after becoming ‘born again’ acted on those beliefs and shunned his family members – all Catholics. My sister also shunned family on her side for wrong, non-Christian belief – my parents did counselling with our minister as to how to manage their beliefs in a way that maintained family relationships.

  • Exactly. If they want to discriminate against those of other faiths, they ought to do it on their own dime.

  • It’s well past time for Miracle Hill Ministries to realize it”s 2019, not 1920. The courts must put an end to this genteel crap that takes dollars from federal and state taxpayers for a foster care program.

  • For “discrimination” against those seeking to become mentors/foster parents associated with Miracle Hill Ministries, should they be considered “customers,” or “employees”? I say that latter–the children are the “customers”–and so MHM has the same right to employ those that meet its religious standards as any other religious organization.

    For the question of “Christian/non-Christian,” it depends on how you as a Christian would label other particular sects. If they are heretics, they’re Christian; if they are pagan, they aren’t. So if you as a Protestant (or Catholic, whatever) label those of another sect as heretics, you are simultaneously acknowledging their status as Christians.

  • I live in Upstate SC and we have an epidemic of meth abuse that is leaving too many children without a good home. It may be legal to discriminate but it is hurting children unnecessarily.

  • No need for scare quotes vote discrimination in the most obvious way. In no way they should be given the government function they possess. Children are not customers here. They are clearly “product” for the agency’s actions.

    You are full of crap here about religious employers. The agency is taking on a role designated for the government. They are acting as a private contractor on the government’s behalf.

    The interests of the children are being ignored and abused in favor of sectarian bigotry.

    There is no rational or legal defense for such an entanglement of church and state or the tacit government endorsement of sectarianism seen here. Taxpayers should never have to pay for their own discrimination.

    As for Christians/ Non Christians, the issue wouldn’t even come up if not for the illegal appropriation of state functions to a church. It is wrong to ask such questions in a court. It is wrong to be in a situation where the question is necessary.

  • A lot of lgbtq people are regular Protestant church goers. This had never been about faith. It’s about bigotry. Since the rightwing branches of both the Protestant and Catholic churches like to pull out individual verses to condemn others, I suggest they spend more time reading Matthew 23, where Jesus gives his opinion of those who have known the love of God, but use their faith to humiliate others.

  • Why is it necessary for an adoption agency to have any religious affiliation? Babies have no preference, they just want a loving home. This is an adult problem.

  • It is hard to say who is a Christian. Some would define it by those who confess the Apostle ‘s creed. It is all the other add ons such as praying or communicating with saints, submersion baptism in running water only, wearing only certain clothing, preaching prosperity theology ,etc that gets one into the weeds. I understand the Roman Church wants to maintain its ability to discriminate and yet collect tax payer money. I experienced that when investigating the possibility of adoption. There are many denominations that routinely denounce others as non-Christian or mere sects/cults. This is not a Roman Church vs all others thing exclusively.

  • A court is no place for such questions. However since the church decided to entangle itself with the state, there is no choice but to hear them.

  • No salvation outside the Roman Catholic Church?
    Existence of saints in the Roman Catholic denomination?
    Supererogation?
    Indulgence?

  • what is wrong with supererogation ? that is,

    what is wrong with doing more than one is required because god is worth the effort?

    p.s. when i was a child, decades ago, the catholic church excommunicated a priest that preached that there was no salvation outside of the church . that was never the teaching of the church, though some individuals believed it .

  • And here I thought worshipping Jesus was the most important thing to qualify one as Christian. Apparently that’s not the deciding factor any more.

  • Pretty ironic to see Catholics protesting families being excluded from adoption agencies based on religious grounds, given their history doing the exact same thing.

  • it’s similar to the splintering of political parties in many countries . people just don’t want to associate with others who don’t believe point by point the same things .

    in the west churches have been coming apart for 500 years . see the dispute in the “united methodist church” as a current example of a church that may splinter .

    people be people regardless of what they believe .

  • What the children will be exposed to is the Protestant religion. What this “religious freedom” does is allow the government to support with tax-payer money programs that promote a particular religious viewpoint to children. Isn’t this a step in “establishing” a particular religion?

    Would the government of South Carolina allow a Muslim group to run a foster group home and only allow Muslims to mentor the children? I doubt it. I live in a state next door to South Carolina and I can just imagine the ruckus if government money was used to allow Muslims to “promote” their religion in the same way.

  • DougH, the problem is in using tax dollars to allow a religion to do a public service job (fostering children) and to only allow their own religious beliefs to guide what is done. The children are indoctrinated into a particular religious belief system. It is government money used to “promote” a particular religion. Does MHM recognize the faith of the family the child comes from in making a decision about who can mentor the child? I doubt it but maybe. Is there another agency to handle making fostering arrangements if the child is from a Muslim, Jewish, Hindu family?

  • If every “rich” family in the country was fostering say a half dozen kids I could possibly see letting this happen but this is reality and being this picky is just nuts.

  • Your atheist friends don’t care what kind of Christian you are, only the kind of person you are. Your atheist friends also don’t think that you should be discriminated against on the basis of religious belief, and that no one should be receiving taxpayer dollars to accomplish that discrimination.

  • Catholic one is relevant.

    of course it goes without saying that if they’re turning away Catholics they’re turning away the rest.

  • From what I’ve read there are over 30,000 Christian denominations, all of which probably agree on 90+% of the theological tenets of their religion. It’s pitiful that some of them think those issues are big enough that they think they can deny the “Christian” label to any of the other groups.

  • The Orthodox Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, the Catholic Church, Orthodox Judaism, and fair number of others say the LGBT issues are about faith.

  • Really?

    The text of the filing for the lawsuit doesn’t appear to be on-line.

    The suit itself was filed by “Americans United for Separation of Church and State”, which generally attacks any money channeled through, given to, or otherwise associated with religion.

    But that’s already been heavily litigated.

  • The particular agency being discussed only places children from compatible religious families with compatible religious families.

    There is no indoctrination involved as there would be were they taking Orthodox Jewish children and placing them with Protestant families or something along those lines.

  • They are acting on behalf of the state. So they are engaging in sectarian discrimination as a proxy for the state government. You are deliberately avoiding and/or misrepresenting that aspect to give a patently phony response.

  • “But that’s already been heavily litigated.”

    It will continue to be heavily litigated as long as states violate 1st Amendment principles and legal interpretations to entangle themselves in sectarian issues. Such as this.

  • The article you cite has some problems vis a vis Indulgences and the Catholic theology in general. For example:

    “This is how the institution of Indulgences gradually developed in the late middle ages: sinners could buy the remission of their sins, first by joining the Crusades and later by contributing money to the coffers of the Church.”

    The Catholic position is described at:

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07783a.htm

    and attributes indulgences to Scriptures …. somewhat earlier than the late middles ages, and the superabundant merits of Christ who died to save all men.

    “Upon the altar of the Cross Christ shed of His blood not merely a drop, though this would have sufficed, by reason of the union with the Word, to redeem the whole human race, but a copious torrent. . . thereby laying up an infinite treasure for mankind. This treasure He neither wrapped up in a napkin nor hid in a field, but entrusted to Blessed Peter, the key-bearer, and his successors, that they might, for just and reasonable causes, distribute it to the faithful in full or in partial remission of the temporal punishment due to sin.”

  • yes . an interesting, and sad, footnote to this subject is the agreement signed by john paul ii and dinkha iv the patriarch of the assyrian church of the east, in 1994 . the assyrian church broke with orthodoxy and rome before any other of the churches we have today . there were a number of reasons but the main one was the correct way to understand who jesus of Nazareth was .

    the declaration did not solve all issues outstanding, but on that main one there was an understanding .

    the sad part is, when you boil the religious rhetoric down to its fundamentals, the simple english would read : ‘whoops . we misunderstood what you said 1600 years ago . we were saying the same things in different words . sorry ’bout that .’

  • yes they do . the question is should they ? do they in fact have a substantial leg to stand on as they interpret the bible and the channel the faith of their mothers and fathers ?

    or have they allowed cultural biases to infiltrate their faith ?

  • None of which is relevant. Nor have you made a coherent point here in response. You are either lazy or are making wild assumptions here.

    Next time enunciate a point.

  • The Catholic Church relies not only upon the teachings of Christ; but the doctors of the church. There is a little more thought put into the subject matter then pulling a verse out of the Bible.
    Perhaps you should search for the writings of St Catherine of Siena.

  • Just religion doing the only thing it’s ever done and the only thing it’s good for. Causing divisiveness, hatred and conflict. All over make believe and pretending.

  • > Really?

    While it takes no government money for its adult programs, four years ago the ministry began accepting federal and state dollars for its foster care program.

    Last year, it received about $600,000 in public funding.

    Yep.

    Most other news stories on this focused on the government-financed religious discrimination, while this one is more about the history of Protestant vs. Catholic.

    > The text of the filing for the lawsuit doesn’t appear to be on-line.
    Here:

    https://www.au.org/sites/default/files/2019-02/Maddonna%20v.%20HHS%20Complaint%202.15.19.pdf

  • It has not been. This is a purely state issue. The federal government is being sued for its actions. Try again. This time use your words to try and o make a point.

  • If it is a purely state issue, the Federal government would hardly be sued, would it?

    I suppose you have noticed this is the program for which the state sought Federal approval and got it, covered right here in RNS just a few weeks ago.

    If you can’t find the url, I’ll provide it.

  • There were four factual assertions that were clearly erroneous before I got to the relief requested.

    The relief requested does NOT support “So stop taking public tax money. That’s the basis of the lawsuit.”.

    The relief requested is that the agency modify its practices and procedures, and that the state and Federal governments withdraw the exemption.

  • Not what I said. But nice try. If you haven’t noticed, what gets approved by the current administration and what is legally permissible are not the same thing.

  • The relief requested does NOT support “So stop taking public tax money. That’s the basis of the lawsuit.”.

    There’d be no basis for a lawsuit if they didn’t take tax money:
    “[Miracle Hill] receives federal and state taxpayer funds to recruit, license, and train prospective foster parents and to place children in foster care with those families. Miracle Hill refuses, however, to recruit, license, train, allow to volunteer, or place foster children with any family that does not both adhere to evangelical Christian religious beliefs and belong to evangelical Christian churches of which Miracle Hill approves. With knowledge of Miracle Hill’s discriminatory policy, the United States government and the government of South Carolina have enabled, sanctioned, and continued to fund the organization’s preference for one religious group above all others in the provision of governmental services, to the detriment of the children that the State contracts with those agencies to serve.”

    And, of course, I didn’t state that “stop taking public tax money” was the relief sought, so I don’t know what your point is.

    By the way, exactly what are those “four factual assertions that were clearly erroneous”? AU is pretty good about getting facts straight.

  • The particular agency being discussed only places children from compatible religious families with compatible religious families.

    Do you have any support for that claim? I don’t see anything on their website stating that all their foster children are only from families of Evangelical Christians.

  • Never mind that adherents of whichever Muslim sect the home wasn’t—Sunni or Shia—would, at worst, dead-heat with the Christians in protesting.

  • how much the religion of the children is taken into account would be a question for the North Carolina Department of Social Services, not Miracle Hills Ministry. While I believe the prospective foster parents have right of refusal, it’s the DSS that supplies the children.

  • You probably have a lot on you. Don’t miss washing the supernaturally impregnated version, the talking snake and the guy who spent 3 days in the whale. Don’t wet the chick who was turned into salt………….she’ll just melt.

  • I do, but since this is going to be litigated anyway, and you’re clearly hard left on it, the effort would be wasted.

  • But the relief requested is NOT that Miracle Hill stop taking tax money.

    If AU was so good about getting facts straight, they’d winning a much higher percentage of their lawsuits, eh?

  • Through contracting with a group that limits those they will consider for providing care for foster children, the DDS has already made a choice to limit those children to be influenced only by people of a particular religious belief. They are promoting a particular religion by assuring that only those of a particular religious belief will be allowed to provide foster services.

    The problem is the state turning over the task of finding those who will help foster children to those who will only consider as suitable those of their own religious belief. The problem is inherent in having such an arrangement at all.

  • I would like to hope that is true. But many of the children may be from families that have no religious affiliations – does that mean the Miracle Hills Ministries doesn’t help any of those kids?… And, if not MHM then who? Is the area so replete with foster care service providers that someone of any/no religion has an agency that will help? I still think there should be no contracts by the state with religious affiliated groups to provide government paid services when the group is allowed to limit those services according to a particular set of religious beliefs.

  • But the relief requested is NOT that Miracle Hill stop taking tax money.

    So what? There’d be no lawsuit if it wasn’t for that.

    If AU was so good about getting facts straight

    They are. I asked you to state what they got wrong, and you refused to answer, because you have no actual examples.

  • Just keep dodging and typing comments instead of even one example of a false statement in the filing.

  • not responding is the pathetic and cowardly thing to do .

    but i understand it . having discussion and dealing in facts are not your strong suit . rather insulting people and stating again and again your hatred of and misunderstanding of religion is what you have to offer .

    or perhaps you are a false flag . could it be that you are in fact a theist trying to make atheists look really bad .

    if that. you are succeeding beyond your wildest dreams .

  • Religion=Divisiveness, hatred and conflict based on make believe. What’s to “misunderstand”? Lonely down there in mommy’s basement and need someone to talk to? We understand. Oh, and i do hate religion and everything associated with it because it’s such an awful horrible thing.

  • thank you for proving my point . you have nothing to contribute to a civilized discussion .

    the atheists you associate with must, pardon my expression, have the patience of job toward you .

  • i doubt that Parker12 reads the bible literally . the catholic church doesn’t .

    but why don’t you ask him before you ascribe views to him he may not have ?

    too much thought involved ?

  • “..doing the only thing it’s ever done….”

    so far you have a flunking grade in history as well as religion .

  • i would phrase it that the catholic church relies on the bible and on tradition, meaning teachings and doctrines verifiably handed down by the apostolic generation .

    the doctors of the church can speak to the meaning of the bible and legitimate tradition, but when cannot enlarge it . by the age of thomas aquinas catherine of siena there is great theology being written, but no new revelations being received .

  • I know some Protestants and some Catholics are Christian. It is evident the pope, counsel of bishops, pro abortion, and pro LGBT leaders within the protestant group and Catholic are not Christians

  • The Supreme Court is an institution at war against God. It”s obvious they are not fit to be part of us.

  • It is obvious we there are many powerful wolves in sheep’s clothing that exist to steal, kill, and destroy.

  • Democrats and Muslims get along, in spite of their personality differences, because the content of their characters are the same.

  • Because i don’t use the myth of god and the scam of religion to pretend i’m not a hypocrite, a liar and a syhtty azz person? Religion was invented by and for people like that to hide behind.

  • When anyone infers in any way that anything to do with religion is more than made up, make believe fairy tale nonsense…………………………………..

  • Legitimize, justify, make excuses, deny, lie, then lie about lying. It’s all in the playbook on how to defend the scam of religion. But history doesn’t lie. That is real history doesn’t. Unlike fairy tale history about dead people coming back to life and other magic tricks.

  • Exactly. And he sure as hell didn’t perfect alternating current like Nikola Tesla did that did more to advance the progress of humanity than any other person who ever lived. Of course Nikola didn’t perform magic tricks, claim his daddy was an imaginary man in the sky or die and come back to life. There is that.

  • Do you think that the MHM is the only organization that NC has worked with to provide foster care? Not hardly. And would you oppose, say, a Jewish group dedicated to seeing Jewish children fostered with Jewish families? That group would not only be restricting what adults they would accept as foster parents, but “discriminate” when it comes to which children they would serve.

  • My concern is that there are only a limited number of groups who do this work and not all religions are represented. What is happening is that religions large enough or wealthy enough to organize these kinds of services are able to use government support to perpetuate their own religion and other religions can’t. I really don’t want what I think should be public service to be religious service. Our governments should get out of the business of supporting or relying on religious based groups to do what government should be doing.

  • because i don’t believe that any one is hopeless . there must be some thought in you . some ability to discuss and understand .

    i’m pulling for you .

  • and ?

    when you think that someone disagrees with you, you should ignore what they are saying and tell them what they think ?

    that is the primary nonsense……………………….

  • “Real history”? The lie about how religion is responsible for all the progress of humanity and the fact that it takes credit it does not deserve and denying it’s nothing but the useless, bloodsucking parasite and leech that it is? That “real history”…..right? Heard it all. Same BS as the imaginary man in the sky. I repeat. BS.

  • you have still not given anything . you repeat charges ad nauseam . but you only give your opinion . you only display what you think . no facts . no back-up . nothing .

    move beyond your own self centered world view and speak reality .

    give evidence .

  • My reality does not include pretending there is an imaginary man in the sky. I do believe we should stop wasting each others time.

  • your reality includes, i would assume, a non-theistic position, perhaps a formal atheistic stance . which is fine . what is a waste is that you show no evidence of presenting a reasonable case for what you hold as reality or truth .

    instead you try to make fun of those who believe in god . as if simply insulting the intelligence of others will encourage anyone to take you seriously.

  • No need to assume. I’ve made it plain reality is non-theistic. When people pretend to believe in fabricated fairy tales they deserve to be made fun of, mocked, ridiculed and insulted. Look at the history of humanity and what people have done while being shielded under the umbrella of religion. Religion has made no difference except to give people an excuse for it to be the birthplace of hate and in most cases to make things worse. If i refer to something specific, say the violent racist history of christians in the buybull belt, how they started the civil war, you will respond with well “WHATABOUT” Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, blah, blah, blah who did what they did because it’s what humans do, not because of lack of religious beliefs or insinuating that religious people have not done the same because they have. Anything referring to do with any religion is ridiculous, outrageous, absurd and embarrassing. There are no gods, devils, demons, angels no heaven or hell. Religion is just myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds. It’s them pretending it’s something good, demanding respect, preference, privilege, power and getting away with it. Legitimizing a lie. That’s what I object to.

  • Lost track of this, sorry. Two things wrong with your post. First, In any free society you are going to have disparities of outcome, both because some are more successful and because of differing levels and areas of interest. If those private organizations and individuals that choose to step up to the plate are primarily religious, then they are primarily religious. If some have a problem with that the proper response isn’t to hinder the religious groups from helping out, but to step up to the plate themselves.

    Second is your assumption that these religious groups are doing work that the government should be doing. You have it backwards, the need of the government to step in and take on the responsibility is a sign of failure on the part of society to take care of it ourselves. Yes, the government should regulate fostering, making sure that children aren’t being abused, but as much as possible the actual work should be in private hands.

  • Government is how society organizes itself to address social problems. At one time religious institutions did this work, back in the times of divine right kings, serfs – when most people had no power to organize their own society to address these issues.

    You are way off on this. Government is the tool of society in a democracy.

    One more thought. I grew up in the segregated South and still live there. I know how necessary were the Supreme Court rulings to achieving a break in the power of people who group together to protect their prejudices. Just as the early colonialists were watched by people like Thomas Jefferson, to assure they did not set up state religions, we need to do the same now. The tyranny of the majority is a very real danger. We need our government, under a Constitution, to assure fair and equal treatment. They may not pass that burden on to particular religious groups.

  • No, society organizes itself through private organizations, be they businesses, churches, or secular organizations of all types. The government is to provide those services which for whatever reason the private sphere is ill-suited to provide itself, primarily justice and security. For government to go beyond that is oppression.

    In the West, at least, government’’s involvement in welfare has been either limited or recent (historically speaking)—in England, the government didn’t get involved in welfare on a major basis until Henry VIII created the Church of England and seized so much church property and shut down the monasteries in the process, thus depriving the Church of the ability to fulfill its ancient role.

    As for our Constitution, it requires that both federal and state governments respect our free exercise of religion, including in those areas that churches have been involved in since before we were a country. (And yes, there is the Establishment clause, but it was designed to protect the state churches already established as well as prevent a federal state church.) The Supreme Court got it right when it declared that governments must treat religious organizations neutrally, without interfering in their internal organizations and beliefs.

    As for Jefferson, leaving aside the fact that he was in France when the Constitution was written, this was the same man that wanted the University of Virginia (that he helped found), to the extent possible, to have every student taught the fundamentals of his own religion by teachers OF his own religion, in rooms set aside for that purpose. Jefferson might have been more wary of organized religion than many of the other Founders, but even he recognized its fundamental importance to society.

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