Religion & Liberty Online

Constitution protects nonprofits despite political activism

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Challenge the political agenda of the Gates and Ford Foundations, but do not use means that undermine the very rule of law that should be defended.

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A healthy state protects life, secures liberty, and defends property. A totalitarian state does the opposite: it arbitrarily kills, compels, and seizes property.

J. D. Vance recently appeared on Fox News with Tucker Carlson to discuss a verbal altercation between Arizona State University students, one of whom was the recipient of a Ford Foundation fellowship.

The Republican Ohio Senate candidate made a broad critique of foundations and universities that get tax privileges as philanthropies but engage in left-wing political activism. Vance first suggested an extensive examination of the legal, regulatory and tax structures governing nonprofits to ensure they aren’t merely shell organizations concealing political action groups.

But at the end of the interview, he crossed into dangerous ground advocating government seizure and redistribution of the assets of the Gates and Ford foundations and similar entities that are actively promoting leftist politics, critical race theory, the sexual revolution and the woke agenda.

This an outright rejection of the rule of law, a key idea and tactic of the socialist and leftist agenda he claims to be fighting.

Vance is correct that the Ford and Gates foundations promote harmful ideologies in the U.S. and abroad. The current regulatory structures should be reviewed. But his call to seize assets encourages an authoritarian use of state power that is dangerous and unjust.

There’s also no doubt that the country faces an increasingly dire political situation that goes deeper than electoral politics. The U.S. is in an anthropological battle over the nature of the person, marriage, the rights of parents and the nation’s democratic traditions.

At this point it appears there will be no place for compromise. The legalization of same-sex marriage, the redefinition of gender and the recent congressional push to codify a right to abortion are gross denials of the separations of powers.

The state is attempting to redefine biological realities and usher in a new ontology of the person that violates reason and science but that requires absolute obedience. The woke agenda seeks to usurp the rights and authority of parents, redefine the meaning of justice and bypass due process and the rule of law. And wealthy foundations often work in various ways to fund this new vision of the person and undermine principles of justice.

To reclaim a richer view of the human person and a vision of society rooted in justice and due process is an ongoing and admirable struggle. And that is why Vance’s call to “seize” the assets of his political enemies and “redistribute” them to his political allies should be rejected.

At a minimum, this is bad political strategy.

While it might get him some votes, it could provoke the current administration to attack conservative groups. But more importantly, Vance’s proposal is a rejection of the rule of law and the very foundations of the American and British political traditions, from the Magna Carta to the Bill of Rights.

He departs from the medieval tradition of law and due process articulated by thinkers like Thomas Aquinas, and from the principle of impartial justice found in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, from Leviticus to James. Sadly, Tucker Carlson failed to press Vance on his zealous proposal.

Vance argued that conservatives need to wake up to the perverse influence of these multibillion-dollar foundations. Undoubtedly so. But seizing legally acquired assets is an affront to the Fourth Amendment to the Bill of Rights, which protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Would Vance dispose of the Second Amendment or the Sixth Amendment and confiscate guns or deny trial by jury because of the current cultural and political crisis?

Vance is right that something must be done as the left continues its incessant march through our institutions. But righteous anger, spiritedness and enthusiasm must be rooted in prudence and respect for justice.

Sociologist Philip Rief famously wrote that “culture is the form of fighting before the firing begins.” Yet, as the best of the Western tradition teaches us, not only war, but politics and culture, too, must be fought in accordance with principles of justice.

A leftist relativist approach to justifying an indiscriminate use of power against “the enemy” undermines constitutional rights and the rule of law, which must be defended at all costs.

This article originally appeared in The Detroit News on Oct. 13, 2021. 

Stephen Barrows

Stephen Barrows is Chief Operating Officer at the Acton Institute.

Michael Matheson Miller

Michael Matheson Miller is a Senior Research Fellow at the Acton Institute