Wherever our forefathers meant to draw the line between activities permissible for the state and those reserved to individuals and religious authorities, it seems safe to conclude that government sermon-writing falls on the wrong side. That obvious conclusion evidently did not occur to officials of the Department of Health and Human Services, who have been composing and distributing sermons on the subject of child adoption in hopes that ministers and priests will use the sermons to enlist their congregations in this good cause.

Quite apart from constitutional strictures regarding separation of church and state, there is also the concern that the practice might simply get out of hand, leaving those in the pulpits with no time for traditional matters of doctrine and practice. After all, the Office of Human Development, the agency within HHS that has originated this new practice, is far from being the only federal agency whose programs and policies could benefit from divine intervention.

Only faith, for example, could make you believe that OMB has any serious plans for reducing the budget deficit. Speaking of faith, the Environmental Protection Agency might want to ask people to pray that hazardous waste dumps and storage tanks don't start leaking before someone gets around to cleaning them up.

A rousing sermon on the virtues of self-sacrifice might convince people to stop buying all those cheap, high-quality imported goods. That should make the Commerce Department happier, so perhaps it would stop complaining to the Treasury about the devastating effect the high-flying dollar is having on American producers. The Treasury itself would probably call for a homily on the subject of charity.

Charity, it might point out, begins these days with you needy federal government. Forget about the Salvation Army. Buy federal bonds instead. For ye have the poor always with you -- so they can wait. The Treasury's daily requirement for more billions in borrowed money is real and urgent.

As for the president, he might ask prayers for relief from mischief-making appointees who seem determined to make government intrude ever more deeply into areas where it doesn't belong -- for example, into the writing of church sermons.