One of the mysteries of the creation of the United States is the incredible confluence of talent that gathered to form the lively experiment that became America. The caliber of genius would be astounding had only Jefferson been present (to steal a line from John F. Kennedy). But perhaps the highest compliment paid to any of the founding fathers might belong to James Madison, the Framer whose influence on our form of government was so grand that he is often referred to as the "Father of the Constitution."
It was Madison, along with Jefferson, who wrote the Virginia Statue on Religious Freedom -- the document that inspired the First Amendment and set the basis for the American tradition of separation between church and state. Madison was committed to the principle that he opposed the employment of chaplains in Congress or the armed forces. So imagine if James Madison was today perusing the federal government's employment website, www.usajobs.gov, and came across this particular vacancy announcement: Chaplain (Roman Catholic), Department of Veterans Affairs, Bedford, MA. Salary Range: $75,222 to $97,787.
You read that right: a salary of nearly six-figures for a priest. And this wasn't the only such opening. In fact, there were 17 similar jobs posted by the federal government on this randomly chosen day, and during a federal sequester no less.
Now, I've absolutely no problem whatsoever with a rabbi, priest, imam, or any clergy member visiting any VA Hospital to minister to the faithful as often as desired. In fact, I think tending to ailing service members and veterans should by the first priority of any church. There's nothing wrong with bringing religion to those who can't get to a place of worship themselves. Madison himself wrote, "all men are equally entitled to the full and free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience." But he certainly wouldn't abide taxpayers employing chaplains.
To continue to use this particular job announcement as an example, are we to believe that the Catholic Church cannot spare a priest to minister to the patients at the VA Hospital in Bedford? Is it at all justifiable that in order for our infirmed veterans to receive pastoral visits at just one hospital taxpayers should come up with more than $100,000 (factoring in benefits)? Of course not. Why aren't the Catholic Church and the rest of the religions providing chaplains for members of their congregations without passing a cost on to taxpayers? Aren't they already receiving taxpayer subsidies as religious institutions? Do taxpayers really have to provide a financial incentive to the religious to minister to their own followers?
It seems clear that this sort of employment is unconstitutional. Regardless of one's stance on the Constitution, the intent of the framers -- indeed, the chief framer himself -- is clearly articulated. The father of that truly sacred document made himself clear, and we should follow his prescription and end this sort of employment in the federal ranks.