The First Church of Cannabis, and other unintended consequences

churchofcannabisIndianapolis hosted the 100th Anniversary Convention for Kiwanis International these past few days. As is the norm, I represented my Valley Park [Missouri] club. At the convention, an organization which didn’t allow women members until the Reagan administration voted in their first woman president, and insured that the second woman president is just a year away.

The local Indy news didn’t say much about Kiwanis.  The hot story: on Wednesday, the first effective day of Indiana’s new religious freedom law, services will be held at the First Church of Cannabis.

Yes, a law by an extremist state legislature, signed by a right wing-nut governor, promoted to “protect” Christian churches from clouds of oppression, allowed creation of a church dedicated to pot smoking.

Some were not amused.  The Indy police chief and city prosecutor held a news conference where they competed to see who would be first to have an on-camera stroke as they spewed venom toward the new congregation.  The prosecutor, as seen on WISH-TV 4, promised that those who attended the service – even if not toking along – would be arrested for participating in a public nuisance.  They promised cops would be inside the church during services.

Meanwhile, the new church’s pastor (who looks like the sort of guy to head the First Church of Cannabis) explained that his church had been recognized by IRS as a religion and that the new state law protected his new congregation’s rights.  TV showed a cute red brick church, complete with steeple and wheel chair ramp.

So, on July 1st look for the national news to cover police inside a church arresting parishioners…Probably not what the Indiana Legislature intended with their Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

It was great to see non-Missouri legislators dealing with unintended consequences.

The Show-Me State, alas, stands ready for tragedy.  In a few weeks we begin the process of having people too poor to get anti-poverty benefits.

As you probably recall, the Missouri legislature voted to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of Senate Bill 24.  As a result, an adult with a dependent child but no income will no longer be entitled to receive the state’s ‘generous’ Temporary Assistance cash grant of up to $234 a month (less than $8 per day) unless screening shows them worthy of applying for aid.  To become eligible to apply they must sign – perhaps in blood – a contract to follow the program, meaning they accept that they are third-class citizens not to be trusted with doing what is in their family’s best interest without bureaucratic oversight.  They must also demonstrate a commitment to working 30 hours every week or otherwise engaging in 30 hours of “work activities” such as sitting at an unemployment office computer searching for jobs.

If a screening bureaucrat deems them unworthy, they don’t get the $8 per day Temporary Assistance grant.

The legislators were not totally without compassion: 20% of the total Temporary Assistance case load may be exempted from these rules.

That’s not as generous as is sounds.  As the rolls decrease (as they’ve been doing for a decade), that 20% “reserve” includes fewer people.  In a very short time the state will need to rescind the exemption for some moms, meaning even those state bureaucrats deems unable to comply must.

Likewise, adults without dependents or jobs may only get food stamps for three months out of every three years.  Until they reach age 65 or get certified as disabled and worthless, an unemployed adult can’t receive the average $4 per day in food stamps.

Add these new laws together and probably 100,000 Missourians will soon be too poor and needy to get help from basic anti-poverty programs.

This would be funny if it weren’t tragic.

In recent weeks I’ve kept busy warning food pantries that they must change the way they do business.  Traditionally, pantries provide from three days to a week’s worth of food each month – an amount meant to supplement government benefits and other income.

Yet, these now “too-poor to get help” folks need to eat more often than one day in ten.  Pantries, churches and other charitable groups must multiply their current aid by a factor of 10 for these “too poor” created by our elected legislature.

Not increasing aid isn’t an option.

You see, supporters of SB 24 claim people receiving government benefits get fat and lazy because $8 a day and $4 a day is too generous:  “I think it will be surprising to see the success rate with this bill, and the smiles on the faces of those folks that move out of the poverty trap…” Rep. Diane Franklin, R – Camdenton, told the Post Dispatch

The only option for food pantries and other charities is to empty their shelves and their bank accounts keeping families alive until they have no more to share – then turn to the media and ask, why aren’t these hungry and desperate people smiling and employed?

Then, perhaps, the media will ask the legislature Is this what you intended?

We have learned that common sense, reasoned compassion and thoughtful acts are no longer the Missouri way of governing.  The ship must sink before we talk about lifeboats.

Meanwhile, back in Indy, they await the great religious showdown.  Will people be arrested for going to church?  Stay tuned.