The Anti-Semitic Origins of ‘You Cannot Legislate the Poor Into Prosperity’

A quote attempting to justify individual largesse in the place of government support has endured thanks to social media, but not without spreading disinformation about its origins.

The statement has commonly been attributed online to evangelical leader Adrian Rogers, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. One iteration has been shared more than 429,000 times on Facebook since it was posted in January 2019:

You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity. What one person receives without working for another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for that my dear friend is the beginning of the end of any nation. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.

Besides being wrongfully attributed to Rogers, the graphic wrongly states that it originated in 1931; Rogers was born that year and died in 2005.

In reality, the quote originated with a far-right Christian isolationist and Holocaust denier, Gerald L.K. Smith (but described in his 1976 obituary as an “anti-communist crusader.”) Smith wrote and published it for The Cross and the Flag, the magazine arm of the Christian Nationalist Crusade, one of the various anti-semitic groups he founded. In October 1964, Smith attempted to downplay his prejudices in an interview published by the New York Times:

Why, I couldn’t sleep at night if I felt a particle of hate for any man. I question no man’s right to any religious belief he chooses, or to bear whatever color God gave him? But this was established as a white, Christian country. I’m against permitting Jews to dilute our Christian tradition. I don’t think our country should be mongrelized by the weaker elements.

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Smith also used the magazine to falsely claim in 1959 that six million Jewish people actually emigrated to the U.S. and were not actually killed by Nazi Germany.

Rogers did adopt Smith’s argument against “legislating the wealthy out of prosperity” in a series of sermons in 1984. He later recycled it again for his book “Ten Secrets for a Successful Family.” His ministry organization, Love Worth Finding, also used the statement as the basis for an online offer selling the former work for “a special price of $30.” However, he never revealed the origins of the quotes he used.

In 2010, the fact-checking site Hoax Slayer reported that the quote was also circulated online with no direct attribution but titled “A Norman Rockwell Moment” as a way to mislead readers into associating it with the author.