On Saturday, I received a letter from my old acquaintance Ralph Reed.
Reed, you might recall, ran TV preacher Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition throughout the 1990s. After leaving the group, he started a political consulting firm that became mired in the Jack Abramoff casino lobbying scandal. He also tried unsuccessfully to launch a political career and even wrote some political potboilers.
None of these ventures gave Reed the payoff he wanted, so he came slinking back to the Religious Right. A few years ago, he formed a group called the Faith & Freedom Coalition.
Reed’s letter to me focuses on the National Cathedral here in Washington, D.C. Ralph is distraught because the cathedral in 2011 received $700,000 in tax money from the U.S. Interior Department for foundation repairs, metal work and restoration of stained-glass windows. Officials at Interior defended the grant by insisting that the cathedral is an historic structure.
Americans United protested the federal subsidy at the time. We agree that the cathedral is historic, but it remains an active Episcopal church with a congregation and regular worship services. It is owned by a religious denomination and is not a museum. The people in its pews, not the taxpayers, should pay for its repair and upkeep, we argued.
Throughout the course of his career, Reed has pushed for voucher subsidies for religious schools, “faith-based” funding for various ministries and so on. Like a lot of fundamentalists, he seems to believe that taxpayer support for religion is not really a problem.
But suddenly it is a problem for Ralph, at least in this case. Why? Well, he’s upset because the National Cathedral has announced that it will perform same-sex marriages. For this reason, Reed says, it should be denied public support.
“The Faith and Freedom Coalition is leading a national charge against this policy by launching a nationwide petition DEMANDING that all taxpayer dollars to support the National Cathedral be IMMEDIATELY discontinued,” Reed blusters in the letter.
Oh, Ralph! Are you really that clueless?
Let me try to explain this to you: Ralph, you spent most of your professional life working to undermine the wall of separation between church and state and electing men and women who don’t respect that protective barrier. Those elected officials, in turn, nominated judges who also don’t see much use for the church-state wall. Their rulings have weakened it. One of the things they did was erode previous court decisions that flatly barred tax aid to religious institutions.
And you see, Ralph, once we start going down this road, we can’t make distinctions among churches based on their political views, as your group would apparently have us do. The government would have to use neutral criteria to decide these questions.
Here’s a better alternative: No taxpayer money for houses of worship. Period.
If we had stuck with that constitutional principle, we wouldn’t be having this discussion right now. I’d also like to point out that it’s a wee bit hypocritical to advocate for government support for religion as long as it’s a religion you like and then screaming bloody murder when it’s extended to a faith you don’t care for.
Here’s the bottom line: There is one thing that could have stopped taxpayer aid from propping up the National Cathedral – the separation of church and state. Reed has spent nearly his entire professional life laboring to undermine that principle. Thanks in part to his nefarious schemes, tax money is now flowing to a church that has policies with which he disapproves.
Reed’s not happy about this.
I hate to say I told you so, Ralph, but we did. Over and over.