What Do Taxes and Budgets Have to Do with Catholic Social Teaching?
"Budgets are moral documents" is a phrase now being heard more often among Church leaders and people of various faiths, but it is a concept which the Catholic Church and other religious organizations have embraced for years. Catholic views on national budget and tax policies flow directly from the Catholic Social Teaching (CST) principles that all of us are called to work for the “common good,” and to embody Jesus' "option for the poor" in our own lives.
In a February letter to Congress when the President’s ‘05-‘06 Budget proposal was released, Bishop William Skylstad (President of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference) stated, “As pastors, we believe that a fundamental moral measure of our nation’s budget policy (emphasis added) is whether it enhances or undermines the lives and dignity of those most in need. Sadly, political pressure frequently has left poor children and families missing in the national debate and without a place at the table.”
Bishop Skylstad also highlighted the importance of tax laws to ensuring these “adequate resources”: “When basic requirements of human life and dignity for many in our country … go unmet, we must insist that adequate federal revenues be available to help meet these basic needs….if government continues to spend far more money than it takes in year after year, it could seriously limit its ability to meet our moral obligations to respond to basic human needs now and in the future. Any new tax proposals [including cuts and increases] should be evaluated in that light before being adopted.”
NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby sponsored by various Orders of Religious Sisters and Brothers, “is very concerned about our national priorities as proposed by the President in the FY 2006 Budget….While expensive tax cuts continue to benefit those at the highest income levels and billions of dollars go toward war, the opportunity to be lifted out of poverty is cut back. Programs that provide basic human necessities such as affordable housing, health care, child care, food assistance and education are all cut and face even deeper cuts in future years.”
Suggestions for the Classroom
For Middle, Junior High and Senior High classes:
1. Give each student a worksheet with a blank circle on which they will create their own “pie chart” reflecting what each feels are the percentages allocated for Spending Categories in the currently proposed U.S. budget. (If your class level is not yet comfortable with percentages, have the students “divide up their pie” using 100 cents in a dollar.) You can either list the Categories as shown in the actual Proposed’05-‘06 Budget pie chart from the Washington Post included at the end of this column, or revise the Category names if needed to better suit your classroom level.
After students finish with their own charts, distribute another sheet which shows the actual Proposed Budget pie chart – and discuss any similarities or differences between the students’ estimates and the actual percentages. Ask how closely their versions and the actual Proposed Budget reflect God’s concern for the poor and the teachings of our Catholic Church. Use some of these Scripture passages for guidance if you like: Deut. 24:17,19; Ps. 72:1-2; Is. 58:6-7; Is. 65:20-25; Jer. 22:16; Amos 5:12; Zech. 7:10; Mt. 25:34-40; Lk. 4:16-21.
End the class by discussing ways in which the students can work toward the Common Good and practice Jesus’ “preferential option for the poor” in their daily lives, taking age-appropriate suggestions from NETWORK’s list to “Help Put a Face on the Federal Budget!” –
Send a letter to your members of Congress during the Budget process; for a sample letter, go to NETWORK’s website at www.networklobby.org And enter your zip in the “Take Action Now” box.
Attend a Town Hall meeting with your Member of Congress; check the district office or Member’s website to learn when/where these are scheduled.
Write a “Letter to the Editor” to help raise issues for the public, and mention the name(s) of your Representative and/or Senators.
Clip out newspaper articles about the local impacts of budget cuts, and fax or mail them to your Members of Congress with a short note.
Invite your Members of Congress to visit local programs which receive Federal funds.
2. An “e-learning module” which is currently being updated but which you may find helpful in the future is “Congress’ Spending Priorities: The Budget Allocation Activity” from the Center on Congress at Indiana University: www.congress.indiana.edu/learn_about/Feature/e-learning_module.php .
To close, a few thoughts about national budgets and the Bible from Jim Wallis, Executive Director of Sojourners and the Convener of Call to Renewal, a national federation of churches and faith-based groups working to overcome poverty by changing public policy directions:
Nearly 3,000 years ago, the Biblical prophet Isaiah offered us God’s vision of a good society. Isaiah’s platform links religious values with economic justice….The starting point to check how our society measures up to Isaiah’s platform is by examining our Federal budget….If the Hebrew prophets were around today, they would surely be preaching about our tax and budget policies that enrich the wealthy and ‘make misery for the poor.’… It is time for religious people to clearly and prophetically respond. We need a ‘faith-based initiative’ against budget priorities that neglect poor people….The cry of the poor rings from cover to cover in the Bible; God hears the cry of the poor – do we?”
Proposed ’05-’06 Budget by Functional Category
Notes: 1) The “Income Security” Category includes Housing Assistance, Unemployment Comp., Food Stamps, Public Aid & similar programs;
2) “Net Interest” is the interest owed on our National Debt;
3) the “National Defense” Category does not include the additional $82 billion requested for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and
4) “Other” includes Agriculture, Commerce/Housing Credit, Community/Regional Development, Energy (with some nuclear weapons costs), General Government, General Science, International Affairs, and Natural Resources/Environment.