Whatever else you say about the Salvation Army, there is no question it does good work providing for the needy. And, despite some misgivings, I’ve done my fair share — perhaps a little more — in dropping dollar bills into Salvation Army pots at Christmas time. In the spirit of helping those in need around the Holidays, I’ve been willing to support their charitable efforts (in this very small way, my major giving has always gone elsewhere). I’ve even been willing to overlook the fact they tend to sneak in a little evangelizing along the way.
But can I support this?
One familiar sound during the holidays is the ringing of Salvation Army bells, beckoning passersby to spread good will and compassion for their fellow man.
But for Salvation Army Capt. Johnny Harsh, that same sound signifies quite the opposite. It is the sound of an entire life he will likely be forced to leave behind — all because he fell in love and found himself in opposition to church doctrine that is nearly a century and a half old.
The Salvation Army, a church established in the 1860s and widely known for its charity work, expressly forbids officers to marry non-officers of the church.
That means that Harsh, after working for the church for 14 years, will have to forfeit his job in order to marry his girlfriend and non-member, Cia.
Okay, let’s try not to get too hung up on the general creepiness of all this: after all, limiting members’ marriage options is hardly unique to the Salvation Army among religious organizations. Unfortunately, that’s far from the only controversial position taken by the organization: most particularly, it has received well justified heckling for its strong opposition to hiring gays and lesbians.
Still, creepy or not, under the First Amendment, the members of a religious organization, like the Salvation Army, have the right to practice their beliefs in peace. If they want to toss members out for marrying outside the organization, that’s their right.
Things get fuzzier, however — a lot fuzzier — when the subject turns to government funding of faith-based charities. And given that Barack Obama generally supports the concept, the issue seems likely to persist.
The usual dispute over whether it’s acceptable for government supported faith-based charities to discriminate (based upon the organization’s beliefs) is a no-brainer to me. Of course that can’t be allowed. If religious organizations want to discriminate (by favoring the faithful, for example), they can do so on their own dime. And the same goes for even the slightest diversion of public funds to religious purposes. That’s absolutely forbidden under the Establishment Clause — and rightly so.
The rub comes in deciding whether even this is sufficient. Let’s suppose, for instance, the Salvation Army agrees to completely avoid discriminatory hiring practices in its charitable work. Let’s further suppose that they agree to build an absolutely leak-proof wall separating their charitable from their religious activities (assuming such a thing would even be possible).
Even under those ideal circumstances (and even leaving aside issues of separation of church and state), I still have to wonder: should I as a taxpayer really be forced to provide financial support to an organization that thinks it has the right to tell its members who they can marry, let alone one that discriminates against gays?
Personally, I’m not seeing it.