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The Role of the Government

It should be quite obvious to anyone who regularly follows the national news that this is a presidential election year.  While we believe in the separation of church and state, this does not mean we ignore our faith in issues before the government.  We must hold to the principles of right and wrong that we have because of our faith.  I have written before on this and you can read that at http://renewaloffaith.org/sj/sjcitizenship.htm.

As I have been listening to the news on this year’s election, one point I think needs to be considered before deciding what candidate we will vote for is what do we expect the government to be doing for us.  There seems to be a large percentage of the people who think the government should fix everything.  Of course, some of these people are the same ones who think the government should stay out of people’s lives.  (The current question of religious liberty comes to mind here.)

For instance, many people think the government should fix the economy.  I do not believe the government can fix the economy.  This is not meant to be a negative statement about the government.  Rather, while the government can influence the direction and stability of the economy, I do not think it is possible for the government to fix the economy by itself.  The economy is very dependent on the actions of individuals, businesses, and in today’s world, our own national economy is heavily influenced by the economies of other countries.

So, what is the role of government?  First, let me quote from another part of my website (“Important Concepts in Catholic Social Teaching”)

The principle of subsidiarity states that all decisions and actions should be handled at the lowest level possible.  In other words, a national government should not impose laws for issues that can be handled appropriately at the city level.  The reverse is also true.  The national government should not expect a lower level to handle situations that are beyond its means.  It was first introduced as the principle of “subsidiary function” in Quadragesimo Anno that states, “The supreme authority of the State ought, therefore, to let subordinate groups handles matters and concerns of lesser importance, which would otherwise dissipate its efforts greatly.  Thereby the State will more freely, powerfully, and effectively do all those things that belong to it alone because it alone can do them” (paragraph 80).

I also direct you to Peace on Earth, the encyclical written by Pope John XXIII in 1963.  The entire encyclical speaks on the subjects of rights and duties but Part II specifically addresses the relationship of individuals and the state.

Ultimately, the government exists to serve the needs of the people.  Our United States Constitution opens with the words “We the people.”  Our Constitution was written for the people by the people, not the government.  I enjoy you to check out the links I have provided and think about what it is that you believe our government needs to work on and vote in accord with this and the principles and values in which we believe.  That is our right and freedom.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

For Further Reading

Rights and Responsibilities

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