Does religious freedom include a right to federal subsidies?


I don’t think so. But that seems to be the prevailing attitude among religious conservatives these days.

Take Rod Dreher, who is fretting that Christian colleges might lose federal funding unless they change their policies to include acceptance of gays and lesbians. ” Lots of Christian colleges (e.g., Notre Dame) have already capitulated. There will be some holdouts, but I’m not sure how long they can manage. If these colleges cannot access government funds, many of them will be forced to close.”

The notion also popped up in this week’s Kansas debate about letting private adoption agencies discriminate against gay couples.

Several supporters of the bill — sent to the House 28-12 — accused its critics of attacking the Catholic faith by asserting the change in state law would legitimize discrimination.

“The prejudice displayed yesterday towards the Catholic faith was offensive and extremely disappointing,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican. “This bill protects Catholic Charities and other religious affiliated groups to continue doing the most noble work — providing children a loving and safe home in accordance with their religious beliefs.”

Let’s take the last assertion first: I don’t think it’s discrimination to acknowledge that a private religion’s set of beliefs might not be entirely compatible with providing a service to the entire public. Would anybody call it discrimination if presidents pointedly prohibited Mennonites from serving as the Secretary of Defense? Life is full of tradeoffs, but religious conservatives seem to think they’re exempt from that notion.

And they seem to think that religious freedom includes the ability to be subsidized by the taxpayer. “We’re taxpayers too,” Dreher wrote. But I’m fairly certain he’d throw a screaming fit if Wiccans or Muslims funded their academies using tax dollars. What’s the difference?

I went to a Christian college that survived, in part, thanks to those federal dollars. I differ with it on some important matters of theology. But I still love it and the friends I made there: They are my family, for better and for worse. Still, I don’t think it’s entitled to those dollars, either. And I guess it’s a little odd that an institution that so self-consciously contrasts itself against “the world” — or, at least, it did during my years there — would be so reliant on it. Mennonite Christians, in particular, used to know how to shake the dust off their feet. I’m not certain that’s the case anymore.

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