Folly to Limit Nourishment for the Soul
“I will abundantly bless her provision: I will satisfy her poor with bread.”—Psalm 132
"A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor." Proverbs 22:9
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in." Matthew 25:35
Both Philadelphia and New York City mayors have announced plans to restict access to food for hungry residents. The Philadelphia Mayor announced in mid March that he was going to try to restrict distribution of food in parks. New York City officials are restricting access to donated food to the shelters. Both these efforts will fail, and we know in Cleveland the pitfalls of trying to bring some order to the chaotic world of food distribution. We do not usually include biblical references in our posts as a secular organization, but these rules do strike at the heart of religious groups.
As advocates for homeless people, we would love to see everyone be able to enjoy a meal inside with running water, heat or air conditioning and the proper place to throw away your waste. I mean, in the richest country in the world shouldn't we be able to feed our population in a respectful and dignified setting? We certainly agree that the food should be nutritious and safe for our constituents. The problem is government involvement in the oversight and regulation of religious groups is a slippery slope. If we allow government to say how, when, where, or how many we serve, what is next? Will they want to regulate which churches are allowed to shelter people? Will they want to search their membership for non-citizens or feel that it is acceptable to spy on churches or mosques.
I have found that most of the religious groups feel it is part of their core operation to break bread with "the poor" while proselytizing. This is a natural part of their ritual, and society should not curtail their ability to serve others. I have no problem with non-profits, advocates, government and religious groups sitting together devising a working agreement on the distribution of food. They could all agree on a common location to distribute food that featured a place to deposit trash and running water to wash up. They could even sign a working agreement on the safety of the food and that only one group would distribute at a time. The problem is that government should not try to make a law regarding the distribution of food especially by religious groups. Local mayors or county officials should not try to interfere in people giving to others. If we are to believe that "we the people" are the government we should be able to assemble, practice our religion, publish, and we should be free to associate without asking for permission from some elected official. It is too easy to cross the line when government starts passing laws.
The problem is that these religious and social justice groups will have to sue Philadelphia and New York over these rules. They will no longer trust government to sit and develop a compromise. Advocates will have to side with their constituents and the groups attempting to serve their constituents. Government officials will get their back up and be forced to send in the troops to crack down on all feeding activity. The hungry and homeless will be caught in the middle. There can be a compromise on these issues, but no one wins when government passes a law. We did it in Cleveland one of the most divided cities in America. It can be done anywhere.
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