Alex Blaze

Obama wants to expand faith-based initiatives

Filed By Alex Blaze | July 01, 2008 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, Christian beliefs, faith-based initiative, Steve Benen

This is currently up on 365gay.com and is causing a few gasps:

Reaching out to evangelical voters, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is announcing plans that would expand President Bush's program steering federal social service dollars to religious groups and - in a move sure to cause controversy - support their ability to hire and fire based on faith.

The story's been updated on the AP feed - check out the MSNBC version - to say that he supports "some" ability to hire and fire based on faith, even though his campaign denies favoring any ability to discriminate based on faith.

That aside, this isn't really a new idea. It's not like Bush was the first president to give grant money to faith-based organizations, as Steven Benen, the progressive blogger who formerly worked for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, points out:

The notion of the government contracting with religious ministries to provide social services is not, on its face, scandalous or unconstitutional. Groups like Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services have partnered with public officials for decades, almost always without incident. There have always been safeguards in place to protect church-state separation, the integrity of the ministry and the rights of those who receive the benefits.

The safeguards were just common sense, and helped make these partnerships legal. Independent religious agencies, not churches themselves, handled the public funds. Tax dollars supported only secular programs, and no religious discrimination with public funds was permitted.

So what happened? George W. Bush decided he wanted to rewrite the rules. His White House identified those safeguards and renamed them "barriers." To protect the First Amendment and the interests of taxpayers, the president said, was to stand in the way of churches helping families in need. The safeguards, Bush insisted, had to be eliminated.

Obama said in his statement that he favors basic First Amendment safeguards:

Anticipating criticism from the left, Obama said: "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.

No discrimination on the basis of religion. Fine, if that protection gets through. What about discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity?

This points to a greater need to get a good ENDA through, one without a huge loophole for religious organizations (especially if they're receiving grant money). That would give us an ability to respond if discrimination occurred.

Besides that, I don't really see a problem any more than exists in the status quo. These programs provide services that people aren't otherwise willing to offer. As burned as a lot of queer people are by religion, there are religious people out there doing great work, especially when it comes to helping the homeless.

Steve Benen concludes with:

There's simply nothing wrong with this. If Obama honors church-state separation and keeps the safeguards in place, as he clearly said he would, there's no reason the government can't partner with ministries willing to provide a secular social service.

This is a no-win situation for liberals if they're going to oppose Obama doing this. It takes money away from good programs that otherwise would not get funded, for what? To make a statement against religion? If the safeguards he promises are put in place, then those who run these programs have just as much right to discriminate as any other business or nonprofit would. And other nonprofits do discriminate.

I'm just sayin', let's not start a fit just because these groups are religious. It just proves the anti-Christian label right.


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Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | July 1, 2008 5:50 PM

Alex, I couldn't agree with you more. The key of course is striking the right balance so as not to run afoul of First Amendment problems. I am sure that the "further left" in both the GLBT community and otherwise will not be all that happy, but I continue to say: would you rather have the next Supreme Court vacancy filled by Barak Obama or John McCain? Oh, yeah, I guess Ralph Nader would do the right thing, and he's a shoo-in, isn't he?

On the sexual orientation discrimination front the Washington Post writes:

But Obama aides said an Obama administration would get tougher on groups that discriminate in hiring practices and assistance. The groups would have to abide by federal hiring laws which reject discrimination based on race, sex, religion and sexual orientation. And the groups could use federal funds only to assist anyone in need, not anyone from a certain background or religion. Nor could federal funds be used to prosletyze or spread religious beliefs.

http://blog.washingtonpost.com/the-trail/2008/07/01/obama_backs_expanded_governmen.html

beergoggles | July 1, 2008 7:09 PM

Unsurprisingly, hearing about this caused a rush of anger at Obama. However, after thinking about it a bit more, I can't see how this can be anything but good for forcing religious organizations to be more tolerant of groups they don't like.

For all the lip service religion pays to god(s), they ultimately worship money. Tie in the money provided by government to good behavior in terms of tolerating and accommodating groups that the religion doesn't like and see how fast their god's own word gets re-written. It happened in Europe. The only reason that fundamentalism has flourished in the US was because of the separation between government money and the religious institutions. Couple them together and this makes it even easier to change religious doctrine by government bribes.

This gets two big thumbs up from me as a roundabout way to water down religion.

Kevin Foster | July 1, 2008 9:48 PM

The groups would have to abide by federal hiring laws which reject discrimination based on race, sex, religion and sexual orientation.

Only problem is that there are NO federal hiring laws based on sexual orientation. None!

Many people believe that there are such laws, but there are not.

See for yourself: www.eeoc.gov

Hes doing what every good candidat should do reach out to folks who have not already declared for him and will vote for him no matter what.The general camoaign has begun folks so watch for him to reach out to all kinds of groups that some of you have dismissed as not worth your time.Senator McCain is doing the same thing but when he does it nobody realy pays attention as they will when Senator Obama does it.

Erin Stevenson | July 2, 2008 2:33 AM

Although this is not a BIG surprise, given Obama wants to spread himself like butter over as many groups as he can to solicit their votes...this is a big sell out to LGBTI groups. There is no way he can control how the will use any Federal Funds..they have had at least eight years of practice hiding their sexual bigotry and hyprocrasy, so it is pretty damning of Obama to begin cow-towelling to the Evangicals just to attract their vote. He;s very familiar with the laws governing the seperation of state and church-I hope Harvard helped him at least make That Distinction. He's smooth-too smooth. John McCain is just plain embarassing and a total lost cause. So is my vote for someone who at one point seemed to be level-headed and rational.

No, he's doing what every "good" democrap candidate does today.....bait and switch anyone progressive, turn further right than many repugicans and then, since we are now stuck with him, we are supposed to hold our noses and vote for him as "not as bad as the alternative".

Bull....I'm not doing that again.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 2, 2008 5:58 AM

Whether it is lunch for elderly and shut ins, day care, drug abuse clinics, and more these "faith based groups" provide more value to the recipient than any government alternative per dollar spent. I do not like organized religion(s) at all, but I have to give them this.

Thanks for the post Alex.

James Baldridge | July 2, 2008 8:46 AM

I wonder if I started the "Consortium of Churches of the Immaculate C@#$suc*#rs" and stated we were a charity, could we apply for that money?? Why should all the mainstream religions get the green? Or maybe, like in Laugh In, the "Church of What's Happ'nin' Now!" I just wonder if they'd be considered, if we stated we were a charitable organization dedicated to erradicating pet dander and "bad vibes."

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 2, 2008 9:20 AM

James, it is called "means testing." You have to have a charitable history already to get the money.

James - the MCC I know has gotten grants from these programs.

I'll step out and say "I don't like it one bit."

Yes, Catholic Charities has gotten money for ages. They also stopped providing adoption services in Mass when they realized they'd have to do them for gay couples too. What was in the best interest of the children they served came second place to their compelling need to discriminate.

You also run the risk of putting that much money and power into the hands of the government to (pardon the pun) lord it over religion. Bush's evangelical-turn has led to how many evangelicals occupying the office Bush created? And what percentage of the charities supported are evangelical?

Would there be a connection between the evangelical in office as President, the one in the faith-based initiatives office, the evangelical dominated military (including harassment for not being evangelical at the academies) and the courts deciding things like same-sex marriage, pro-choice/pro-life, death penalty, adoption rights, gun control, and other important issues while evangelicals are soaring through the judicial confirmation process of the ever more evangelical Congress?

Surely not. All of the extras Bush gave us and Obama wants wants will just give us more occasions for violations of that separation of church and state. Better not to have the temptation available.