Religious Principles that Underlie the Social Security Program

The Statement of Principles, below, was affirmed in 1999 by the United Church of Christ's Office for Church in Society and 20 other Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish, Roman Catholic, Unitarian, and National Ecumenical Groups. (OCIS was the fore-runner of Justice and Witness Ministries' Office for Public Life and Social Policy.)

Many of the signatory groups actively supported the creation of Social Security in 1935 and its later expansions because it was in keeping with the principles of justice and compassion that were important to their religious self-understanding. It is always possible to improve a program such as Social Security and, indeed, many improvements have been made over time. Nonetheless, we agree that the Social Security program as it currently exists is one of the most successful federal anti-poverty programs and has powerfully proved its value to the American people, justifying the hope and investment which brought it into being.

Statement of Principles

1. Our common religious heritage leads us to affirm the Social Security program as a primary way the government embodies its role to care for the widow, the orphan, the elderly and those living with disabilities. Such caring should be a fundamental part of our society and not left to the vagaries of voluntary charity. It is appropriate and desirable that workers and employers should pay for the benefits needed to provide a base level of income security for all those who qualify. Any reduction of benefits or increased restrictions on eligibility would be inconsistent with this principle.

2. Social Security retirement benefits should be the bedrock for meeting the needs of the elderly. Individual savings and private pensions should also be strengthened but not at the expense of the Social Security system which includes: an adequate and guaranteed minimum benefit, portability, a progressive balance of taxes and benefits, divorce neutrality and the linkage of retirement, disability and survivor benefits. We find the design of the Social Security program to be worthy of continuation and therefore affirm that any shortcomings in savings of and pensions of individuals should be addressed outside of the Social Security system and not as substitutes to, or diversions from, Social Security. This principle reflects our understanding that it is important to encourage both social responsibility and individual initiative.

3. We support the basic concept of social insurance which is the foundation of Social Security. Retirement benefits provide an income floor for workers who have contributed to the common good through their labor. It is a good thing for our society to respect and reward such labor by making sure that, when age or disability constrains the ability to work, those who have contributed to the common good should have their most elementary needs met by the society to which they contributed. We also specifically affirm the theme of intergenerational responsibility and caring which strengthens our society over time. Social Security holds up the importance of strengthening the work force so that generations of workers can both meet their own needs and contribute to the needs of older generations. We favor improvements that help all generations.

4. We oppose any changes in Social Security that would have a negative impact on low income people and groups that have suffered from discrimination. Current funding and benefit patterns are desirable, in part, because they give extra help to those most in need while also rewarding higher levels of contribution into the system. Changes that reduce the capacity of Social Security to help all those in need should be firmly resisted. This nation should be proud of every benefit provided under Social Security, including support for survivors of workers and support for children and adults living with disabilities.

5. We urge that any change in Social Security investment policies should not injure the capacity of the federal government to pursue other positive purposes. The federal government should continue to improve its stewardship of public resources by directing expenditures to purposes that enhance the common good.

This statement of principles is affirmed by the undersigned religious organizations as guidance for engaging in public policy advocacy concerning Social Security. Some of the undersigned groups have additional policy that goes beyond this common list. Some of the groups may not have a specific policy mandate that matches a particular point but finds such points to be in keeping with their general policies on economic justice and the stance they wish to take with regard to Social Security.

Signatories: The United Church of Christ's Office for Church in Society and 20 other Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish, Roman Catholic, Unitarian, and National Ecumenical Groups.


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