First, there was this awful news about Obama’s support of “faith-based programs”:
Reaching out to evangelical voters, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is announcing plans to expand President Bush’s program steering federal social service dollars to religious groups and — in a move sure to cause controversy — support some ability to hire and fire based on faith.
Gak. If that were true, he’d be at some risk of losing my vote, and would definitely be on the road to losing my campaign support. That was Fox News, though, so I held off until I heard more…although reporting that Obama supported an agenda favored by the religious right seemed unlikely from that source, unless they also announced he was only going to fund Islamic programs (Oops, did I just start another rumor?).
Next, there was some fast damage control: that early report was wrong, and here’s what Obama really said.
Now, make no mistake, as someone who used to teach constitutional law, I believe deeply in the separation of church and state, but I don’t believe this partnership will endanger that idea — so long as we follow a few basic principles. First, if you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them — or against the people you hire — on the basis of their religion. Second, federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples, and mosques can only be used on secular programs. And we’ll also ensure that taxpayer dollars only go to those programs that actually work.
That’s better. Until you think about it. He’s still proposing an expansion of Bush’s faith-based initiatives — he’s going to be handing out billions of dollars to religious organizations. It’s nice that he’s specifically saying there will be restrictions, that the money can’t be used in programs that discriminate, and it must be for secular purposes, but he’s still propping up a religious middleman between government aid and the people, and that’s a tool that will be used to proselytize indirectly, even if they don’t simply flout the rules. This is a bad idea.
I’m going to take the side of Americans United, which has put out a call for Obama to shut down the government’s pandering to religion with these faith-based charities.
Rather than try to correct the defects of the Bush “faith-based” initiative, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama would do better to shut it down, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Obama today announced a proposal to expand faith-based funding during a speech in Zanesville, Ohio.
“I am disappointed,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “This initiative has been a failure on all counts, and it ought to be shut down, not expanded.”
However, Lynn said he was pleased to hear Obama express support for church-state separation and say that he would bar government-funded proselytism and religious discrimination in hiring when tax dollars are involved.
“It is imperative that public funds not pay for proselytizing or subsidize discrimination in hiring,” said Lynn. “Obama has promised that he will not support publicly funded proselytism or discrimination in hiring, and that’s an important commitment.”
The Bush administration has repeatedly insisted that religious charities can discriminate on religious grounds in hiring staff when running publicly funded programs.
Lynn said he is concerned that the Obama plan apparently would allow direct tax funding of houses of worship to run social service programs. That, said Lynn, raises serious issues of entanglement between religion and government.
Americans United has led opposition to the Bush faith-based initiative since it was unveiled in 2001.
The plan Obama proposes doesn’t even make sense. If religious groups have a history of altruistic support for the needy, good for them and let them continue as they have…but funneling government funds through organizations that supposedly already have “faith-based” mechanisms for raising money seems superfluous. That’s the only advantage these groups have, anyway — the ability to fleece the flock to fund their work. Being religious does not give any advantage in obtaining material outcomes.
End the faith-based initiatives. The government should only be supporting programs that work — at least, in my dreams of an efficient administration, anyway.