Monday, December 30, 2002

NYTimes Editorial Watch

Today's edition: Mr. President, don't tear down this wall!

In today's lead editorial, the editors of the Times followed their columnist Paul Krugman's lead (which I blogged on here) and decried President Bush's decision a couple of weeks ago to allow religious groups which run social service programs to receive federal funding more easily. There are two specific comments I have.

First, the editorial states that "President Bush's initiative runs counter to decades of First Amendment law, which holds that government dollars cannot be used to promote religion." The editors are correct, in that Bush's plan runs counter to decades (and only about five of them) of rulings on the First Amendment. In November I blogged about two new scholarly books which demonstrate that the modern understanding of the First Amendment is not only relatively new, but runs counter to the original intent of the Amendment. And this ties in to the error in this editorial's statement: nowhere does the First Amendment use the term "promote". Rather, it prohibits the establishment of a state religion. The reading of the editors may be common, but it is wrong nonetheless.

Second, the editorial states that "the faith-based initiative is also unconstitutional, and fundamentally unfair, because it allows tax dollars to be used in programs that discriminate in hiring." But tax dollars are already given to various programs that discriminate in various ways (the bruh-haha over the U of Michigan's law school's acceptance practices being one notable example). Discrimination per se is not wrong... that is determined by the specific way in which it is applied. The fact that I -- as a man -- cannot use a women's restroom is discrimination, but it isn't wrong. So too do religious groups have the right to choose whom they want to hire.

This editorial repeats the standard secular mantra against religious activity in the public square, a mantra which scholarship is more and more proving to be unhistorical and illegitimate.

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