Morality and Public Policy

"Morality" often is raised today as a private sector issue. For example, we are told that grassroots nonprofit youth development organizations in the inner city, should be driven by a moral imperative. We also are told that, if parents better teach right from wrong, there will be less need for such child and youth development initiatives in the first place.

Of course parents should teach right from wrong. And almost all scientifically proven nonprofit youth development organizations, whether secular or religious, get kids to do the right thing. (See What Works.) But what about public morality? Father Geno Baroni, the first federal assistant secretary whose domain included "faith based" initiatives (at HUD in the late 1970s) said, "Every economic and social issue is a moral issue...What is our national purpose? When are we going to reorder our national priorities?...If we've got the technology, and we've got the resources, the Gross National Product and the economic know how, what's missing? Something that's missing is the soul, the guts."1

Based on this view, a great deal of public policy that doesn't work can be considered immoral. For example, we believe that:2

  • It is immoral for eighteen percent of the youngest children in the world's only super power to live in poverty.
  • It is immoral to take from the poor and give it to the rich, as does supply side, trickle down economics.
  • It is immoral to secure huge tax cuts for the rich, at the same time poor children don't have enough to eat.
  • It is immoral for CEOs to be paid over 400 times as much as their workers.
  • It is immoral and for the federal government to allow America to be the most unequal country in the industrialized world in terms of income and wealth.
  • It is immoral for the states to spend more on prison building than on higher education.
  • It is immoral for white corporations to profit from incarcerating minorities sentenced with racially biased drug laws.
  • It is immoral for the rate of incarceration of African-American men in America today to be four times higher than the rate of incarceration of black men in pre-Mandela, apartheid South Africa.
  • It is immoral, through lack of campaign finance and voting reform, for America to create a one dollar, one vote democracy, and to have disenfranchised minorities and the poor in the 2000 election.
  • It is immoral to determine presidents via an Electoral College system founded on the principle that each (nonvoting) slave counted as three-fifths of a white person.

It is here that "faith-based" policy has potential. (See An Assessment of "Faith Based" Policy.) What if each week, on the day of worship, month after month and year after year, tens of thousands of religious leaders preached how we know what works, how we are not replicating it to scale even though we have the knowledge and the money, how much of our public policy is immoral and how we need a community-by-community voting rights movement to overturn the disenfranchisement of the 2000 election? What if national religious groups provided to local congregations well written summaries on what works, electronically and in hard copy? A powerful grassroots movement could begin.

Notes and Sources

  1. Lawrence M. O'Rourke, Geno: The Life and Mission of Geno Baroni (New York: Paulist Press, 1991), pp. 223-244.
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  3. For documentation, see Vision, Unequal Protection: Corrupted Democracy, and The Millennium Breach.
  4. [Back]

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