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TOWN HALL: Obama says churches do more (poll)

February 10, 2012
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President Barack Obama’s attack on religious liberty resulted in a reversal and a statement that one typically hears only from free market economic realists. Obama explained that religious charity may do more than government programs to benefit society:

“My first job in Chicago was working with Catholic parishes in poor neighborhoods, and my salary was funded by a grant from an arm of the Catholic Church. And I saw that local churches often did more good for a community than a government program ever could...”

We hope Obama experienced a change of heart in the midst of intense conflict, but we also know better. It’s an election year, and he was in a political quagmire.

But in his effort to cool things down, he spoke truth. Religious charities do far more than governments to aid and comfort the poor, all over the world. In addition to serving as the foundational social safety network, they advance society with hospitals and great institutions of learning.

An article published by the American Bar Association reports that religious hospital systems are the fastest growing in the United States. Nearly 20 percent of American hospital beds are controlled by the Catholic church. Half of the 10 largest health care systems are Catholic and are outpacing the growth of for-profit systems.

Most great American universities were founded, funded and staffed by religious organizations. Of the country’s first 108 colleges, 106 were founded by churches. Harvard was among the two that was not founded by a church, but the university’s “Rules and Precepts,” published in September of 1642, state: “Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the maine end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, (John 17:3), and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.”

Congregational ministers founded Yale “to propagate in this wilderness, the blessed reformed Protestant religion.”

Even today, at institutions such as Georgetown and Boston College, top courses are taught by Jesuit priests.

The world relies most heavily on religion to provide for the sick and poor. Stanford University’s Hoover Institution found that even the world’s largest secular charities obtain a majority of their contributions from religious donors.

Which does more to help the sick and poor? Goverment or religion? Vote in poll to the right. Must vote to see results.

The report, “Religious Faith and Charitable Giving,” states: “While 68 percent of the total population gives (and 51 percent volunteers) to nonreligious causes each year, religious people are 10 points more likely to give to these causes than secularists (71 percent to 61 percent) and 21 points more likely to volunteer (60 percent to 39 percent). For example, religious people are 7 points more likely than secularists to volunteer for neighborhood and civic groups, 20 points more likely to volunteer to help the poor or elderly, and 26 points more likely to volunteer for school or youth programs. It seems fair to say that religion engenders charity in general — including nonreligious charity.” (See study summary)

Every aspect of the research shows that most of the world’s charity, even when channeled through secular organizations, emanates from religious people.

Secularism is on the rise in the United States. The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey revealed that Americans claiming “no religion” have doubled since 1990 to 15 percent of the population in 2008. It’s probably higher today. If a whole 20 percent of Americans have no religious affiliation or belief, a full 80 percent of taxpayers are religious. That means government assistance programs obtain the vast majority of their funding from believers, most of whom also donate to charity.

It is frightening to imagine a world devoid of obscure food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, missionaries and AIDS hospices that are inspired, funded and staffed by religious volunteers. Try to imagine a world without Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army, Jewish Family Services, Compassion International, the Christian Children’s Fund, Muslim Charity, etc. Then remember that the world’s largest secular charities — organizations like the Red Cross and the March of Dimes — get most of their funding from religious donors.

If you worship on weekends, remember that all you have was given by God. Believers must share God’s gifts with those who haven’t the strength or talent to produce and compete sufficiently to survive in dignity, safety and comfort. Continue to prove Obama correct, reducing the need for government distribution of that which God has provided.

That's our view. What's yours? Please initiate or join in a Facebook discussion below, and vote in poll to the upper right.

Friend editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen on Facebook, follow him on Twitter

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