In an article for Pajamas Media, Clayton Cramer argues how the idea that America is a "Christian Nation" has policy implications. In particular, he examines how a "Christian Nation" might deal with welfare.
Social conservatives argue that this is a Christian nation and that it is both appropriate and reasonable for the Christian majority to make laws that reflect its moral code. As social conservatives became more successful in gaining office and influence a few years back, liberals began to argue that if this was a Christian nation, didn’t Jesus call us to help the downtrodden and suffering?
Who’s right? They both are, but it seems that many liberals and social conservatives are missing some important history....
William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, the most popular law book in the American colonies when the Revolution started, listed the rights that every Englishman enjoyed because they were a gift from God — including the right to life. And this even applied to “an infant, even before his birth.” This included not simply protection from criminal attack, but also:
The law … furnishes him with every thing necessary for their support. For there is no man so indigent or wretched, but he may demand a supply sufficient for all the necessities of life, from the more opulent part of the community, by means of the several statutes enacted for the relief of the poor.
Libertarians who want the government to not be in the business of caring for the poor are free to promote their beautiful theories all they want. But I would prefer if they emphasized that their position is not necessarily a conservative position. In spite of the best efforts of the ACLU, this is still predominantly a Christian nation. Yes, there are lazy people who take advantage of the welfare state (although it isn’t as easy as it used to be, since the 1995 reforms). But there are an awful lot of people who are dependent on the government because they have no choice in the matter. There are a fair number of single mothers out there trying to raise kids on their own because the father ran off, is sitting in prison, or is otherwise not being responsible.
And yes, some of these single mothers made really bad choices that put them in these situations. This is why whatever system we come up with to help those in need must not incentivize bad behavior. Inevitably, we need a system that has enough discretion to punish destructive behavior and reward improvements in behavior....
As a libertarian who is more secular and less "Christian" than Mr. Cramer, I see, in the ideal, a lesser role for the state in providing welfare. That's one problem with libertarianism; we posit an ideal world, but the real world involves a huge Leviathan state. So the libertarian has to answer the question, in this second best world, what to do? And sometimes the first best libertarian policy can't be properly implemented with big government's existence. For instance, open borders is a first best world libertarian policy. But as Milton Friedman pointed out, it's not a good idea until and unless we abolish the welfare state. Certainly we can't provide socialized medicine with open borders.
Likewise with welfare, ideally the state will tax us a Hell of a lot less (perhaps not at all) and that will permit private charities to play the role of government bureaucrats and social workers. But given our massive government debt, I don't see a libertarian tax world coming any time soon unless the state declares bankruptcy and sells its assets (what Murray Rothbard wanted; he believed debt holders might get paid more than you think by a bankrupt US government once they sell all the valuable real estate they own in Washington, DC and Alexandria, Virginia).
I don't know how to properly deal with welfare policy in a world where libertarian idealism is not a viable option. I DO believe that private charities, many of them religious and conservative Christians, would do a much better job at implementing a safety net than government bureaucrats and social workers.