Tuesday, June 6, 2006

With government money comes government strings

Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued to stop a program by Prison Fellowship Ministries. AUSCS won the suit, and now Prison Fellowship Ministries must pay back $1.53 million to the state.

I've written on many occasions in opposition to both a proposed "faith based" charities program and vouchers for private schools. My main concern is religious freedom, because with government money comes government strings. (See articles from February 2001, October 2002, December 2004, and April 2005.) Now, a Christian organization faces a huge financial burden because they must repay the money they took from the government.

Unless Prison Fellowship Ministries engaged in criminal activity with the money given to them by the state, ordering the group to repay $1,530,000 is unnecessary and excessive. Sternly reprimanding or disciplining prison officials is one thing, but the prison ministry should not be punished. This order seems vindictive, and a higher court should overturn it.

This case underscores how dangerous it is for Christian organizations to become entangled with the government. Political winds change direction rapidly, and there are forced within the government that are openly hostile to Christianity. As Christians, we have more than enough attacks on our religious liberty as it is and we should not invite more problems for ourselves by taking money forcibly confiscated from taxpayers.

This is not to say that Christians should not minister to those in prison. These people need the grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ as much as anyone else. Prison is a violent, godless environment and Christians need to remember that the Great Commission does not have an exception for prisons. However, any ministry to prisoners must be completely self-funded to prevent the corruption that tax money brings with it.