Rep. John LaBruzzo, a Republican from Metarie (David Duke’s old haunts) wants to pay poor women $1,000 to get sterilized. Why? Because people receiving food and housing assistance “are reproducing at a faster rate than more affluent, better-educated residents.” The New Orleans Times-Picayune has the story:

“What I’m really studying is any and all possibilities that we can reduce the number of people that are going from generational welfare to generational welfare,” he said.

He said his program would be voluntary. It could involve tubal ligation, encouraging other forms of birth control or, to avoid charges of gender discrimination, vasectomies for men.

It also could include tax incentives for college-educated, higher-income people to have more children, he said.

LaBruzzo, 38, is white, married to a lawyer, has a toddler daughter and holds a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University.

[snip–so to speak]

“It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, he’s a racist,’ ” LaBruzzo said. “The hard part is to sit down and think of some solutions.”

LaBruzzo said he opposes abortion and paying people to have abortions. He described a sterilization program as providing poor people with better opportunities to avoid welfare, because they would have fewer children to feed and clothe.

He acknowledged his idea might be a difficult sell politically.

“I don’t know if it’s a viable option,” LaBruzzo said. “Of course people are going to get excited about it. Maybe we’ll start a debate on it.”

Well, he’s done that. New Orleans’ Catholic archbishop, Alfred Hughes, was the first area clergyman to come out against LaBruzzo’s proposal. According to RNS, Hughes based his opposition on two elements of Labruzzo’s proposal: the technique of direct sterilization and the underlying purpose of manipulating the birth rate to reduce certain populations as a matter of public policy.  

More broadly, Hughes said, the plan “would also constitute a form of eugenics that the church and this country have always condemned.”

Over at dotCommonweal, where I saw this news, Notre Dame’s Cathleen Kaveny applauds Hughes but notes that the archbishop’s historical analysis is flawed:

“He’s wrong in saying we Americans have always condemned eugenics. That’s the problem. We haven’t. I do not believe in whitewashing history-the history of Christianity or the history of the United States. And I do believe in making contemporary citizens and believers confront the bad decisions of the past. The United States does not have a good history with eugenics -before the Second World War, and the revelations of the atrocities of Nazi Germany, it was attractive public policy.”

Professor Kaveny goes on to cite the infamous Buck v. Bell case of 1927 in which Justioce Oliver Wendell Holmes, writing for the majority that upheld forced sterilization for the good of the rest of society, declared: “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

In the comments thread to that post, some tried to tie this sin of eugenics to “liberal Christianity,” an inflammatory charge aimed at progressive believers in America now, as then. But America’s ugly dalliance with eugenics is replete with instances of progressives who were so enamored of social engineering or bringing about paradise on earth that they succumbed to the worst temptations to make it happen. (And of course, conservatives, perhaps like the GOP legislator in Louisiana, were no better; maybe Sarah Palin will have him to dinner if she’s elected.)

This episode is a good reminder of our common failings, and how far we have come, but also how realistic we must be about our faults, the faults of others, and the grace of imperfection in everyone.

ThinkProgress.com has updates.

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