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Why Not Force People to Attend Church?

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There is one big fundamental difference between libertarians and advocates of the welfare state: force.

Libertarians say: Leave everyone free to keep his own money and decide what to do with it. Under libertarian principles, charity is entirely voluntary. If a person chooses to help out others, he must use his own money or money that has been voluntarily donated by others. We libertarians say that charity and compassion mean nothing unless they come from the willing heart of the individual.

Welfare statists say: There is nothing wrong with forcing people to be good, caring, and compassionate. Under welfare statism everyone’s income is subject to seizure by the government, which then decides who is to receive the money. Everyone who lives under the welfare state — from IRS agents, to the members of Congress, to the president, to the judiciary, to the military, and to the entire citizenry — is considered a good and caring person.

Well then, here’s the question: Why not enact a law that forces everyone to attend church every Sunday? Isn’t church the place that ideally inculcates moral values, including love of neighbor, within the individual? Don’t the churches teach the importance of helping those in need? Don’t they emphasize the importance of God’s second-greatest commandment: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself?

Statists claim that people cannot be trusted with the freedom to decide whether to help out those in need. When presented with an opportunity to help someone in need, statists say that people will just turn their backs rather than choose to help out.

Let’s assume that’s true. Then under that formulation it’s obvious that the American people need some education about morals and religious principles. Wouldn’t it be better to teach people these principles rather than (or in addition to) simply forcing them to be good, caring, and compassionate? What better place to inculcate such principles in people than at church?

And it’s not like people wouldn’t have choices. While everyone would be mandated to attend Sunday services, everyone would be free to choose which church to attend. We could even have some sort of voucher system, thereby enabling conservatives to consider it a free-market approach to mandatory church attendance. Catholic, Protestant, Morman, non-denominational. To ensure a wider array of choices, we could also throw in synagogues and mosques and even let people attend services on Friday or Saturday rather than on Sunday.

After all, in principle would mandatory church service be any different than forcing people to purchase health insurance? In both cases, people would be forced to do these things for their own good and for the good of society. What’s wrong with that, at least from the standpoint of a welfare statist?

I know what you’re thinking — that such a law wouldn’t be constitutional because it would violate the First Amendment. Okay, fair enough. Then we can do it by constitutional amendment, one that would read as follows: “Every American citizen shall be required on pain of fine and imprisonment to attend religious services at a place of worship of his choice every Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. This provision hereby modifies the First Amendment.”

So, what’s wrong with that proposal? Obviously, lots of people don’t go to church. Maybe that’s the reason that, according to statists, Americans are so greedy, self-centered, and selfish that they cannot be trusted with freedom when it comes to the issue of charity. By forcing people to go to church, we end up with a society of good, caring, compassionate, religious people, right?

Most Americans would undoubtedly oppose a law requiring everyone to attend church. They would say that whether a person attends church or not is his business, not the business of the state or the majority. They would also say that freedom entails the right to not attend church, not worship God, and not even believe in God. They would oppose such a law even if they were convinced that the law would produce good results.

Libertarians believe people would be right to oppose such a law. It’s not what freedom is all about. Freedom entails the right to say no with respect to choices that involve peaceful, non-violent behavior. If a person isn’t free to say no to attending church, then he’s not truly free.

Okay, but then why not extend the principle to charity? Why isn’t what a person chooses to do with his own money as important as what he chooses to do on Sunday? If freedom entails the right to say no with respect to attending church, why doesn’t it also entail the right to say no to charitable help for others?

The fact is that genuine freedom entails the right to reject both God and neighbor. That’s also what free will is all about. If people are forced to attend church or to donate to some worthy cause, then they cannot truly be considered free. And resorting to force only denigrates God’s great gift of free will.

We need a separation of charity and the state, just as our ancestors gave us a separation of religion and state. It would be among the greatest gifts that the older generations living today could bequeath to the younger generations before the latter pass from this life.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.