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.