I don't usually post much about politics, for many reasons. Nor to I have the chutzpah to pretend to know a lot about halachah. This article at Truthout might give my more halachically-learned readers an opportunity for reflection.
After weeks of prodding by Republican lawmakers and the American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said yesterday that it will use taxpayer money to reimburse churches and other religious organizations that have opened their doors to provide shelter, food and supplies to survivors of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
FEMA officials said it would mark the first time that the government has made large-scale payments to religious groups for helping to cope with a domestic natural disaster.
"I believe it's appropriate for the federal government to assist the faith community because of the scale and scope of the effort and how long it's lasting," said Joe Becker, senior vice president for preparedness and response with the Red Cross.
Civil liberties groups called the decision a violation of the traditional boundary between church and state, accusing FEMA of trying to restore its battered reputation by playing to religious conservatives.
"What really frosts me about all this is, here is an administration that didn't do its job and now is trying to dig itself out by making right-wing groups happy," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Now this is a good point. The reason that religious people give charity is that it's a religious imperative. For Jews, that word "imperative" is the core of the matter. We give because it's a mitzvah.
It was the government's obligation to provide for the safety and health of the Gulf Coast residents. They had committed to certain actions that they did not carry out. Now they want to give away the apparently scarce resources of the federal agency that's supposed to help hurricane survivors to religious groups.
I think it would be a good thing if religious bodies in other states would send donations to sister congregations so they don't have to take money from the feds. I don't have a problem, in general, with government grants to religious organizations for work they contract to do. I understand that makes sense for both parties and doesn't necessarily violate boundaries of church and state. But this feels to me like a way for the federal government to excuse itself for not having provided appropriate aid.