Letter #1 to the UT Tyler Patriot Editor

All the President's Men

In an article appearing in the February 22 [2002] edition of the Patriot, contributing writer Evan Fisher takes aim at President Bush's initiative to provide federal funding for faith-based programs. Mr. Fisher says the plan is inherently unfair, largely unpopular, and implicitly unconstitutional. Quite a mouthful.

On the charge of unfairness, Mr. Fisher argues that certain sorts of faith-traditions are likely to be denied fair access because the President's "cronies" won't fund groups whose ideology they oppose. Apparently, Mr. Fisher has contacts at the White House that the rest of us don't. We can't say, for instance, what the various ideologies of the various members of the administration might be. And we won't even pretend to say to what extent, if any, that administration's private beliefs would influence their constitutionally-mandated public behavior. What we can and will say is that as matter of good faith, and in the absence of any evidence to the contrary -- nobody has been given any funding as of yet -- the president's cronies should probably be given the benefit of the doubt.

On the charge of unpopularity, we agree with Mr. Fisher that the President's plan is unpopular with some. For one, his budget includes tax breaks that are already controversial with certain members of Congress. In view of Mr. Fisher's Libertarian-inspired counter proposal, however, we wonder which side would fare the worse in that popularity game. At our last count there were no Libertarians in Congress. As for the popular vote, less than one percent of the electorate voted libertarian in the past election -- not counting Florida. Consequently, Mr. Fisher's plan appears less popular both with Congress and the American people. Nothing like trading a little broccoli for a bit of sauerkraut.

On the charge of unconstitutionality the President, as Mr. Fisher may recall, has executive authority to declare how fund allocation laws passed by Congress should be applied by agencies within the executive branch of government. The President cannot circumvent the will of Congress, as Mr. Fisher implies. Congress can pass a law rendering a President's executive order moot. Congress can refuse to appropriate the funds necessary to support an executive order. As to the Church-State issue, providing funds to religious institutions for a "legitimate secular purpose" is not only not unconstitutional, it's the law, Mr. Fisher (see Board of Education v. Allen, 392 U.S. 236).

Now, we do not believe that the President's plan is beyond criticism. Quite to the contrary. But for all of the concern about the President's alleged cronyism, Mr. Fisher's arguments strike us as a bit confused, generally unsubstantiated, and, excessively priest-ridden. And while we support his right to serve sauerkraut, we prefer he didn't do it at our table.

SPCM 4327 Contemporary Rhetoric

Jenny Board

Aaron Evans

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