(There are several updates below. Check them out!)
There are stories making the rounds about how Barack Obama is set to expand George W. Bush‘s faith-based programs — and allow groups to hire/fire based on religion:
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.
Before you jump to any conclusions and lash out against Obama, MSNBC reports that this isn’t entirely accurate:
(Note: The Associated Press initially reported Obama supports “their (faith-based organizations’) ability to hire and fire based on faith.” NBC reports the campaign says Obama’s plan would prevent organizations from discriminating based on faith. The Associated Press changed its wording to say, “some ability to hire and fire based on faith.” The campaign says this second version is still inaccurate.)
In fact, Obama only “supports letting religious institutions hire and fire based on faith in the non-taxpayer funded portions of their activities.”
Obama’s plan is one most non-religious people, I imagine, could get behind.
What is his campaign actually pushing for? Here’s what they are in favor of (PDF):
Obama’s initiative will be governed by a set of core principles for federal grant recipients. In order to receive federal funds to provide social services, faith-based organizations:
- Cannot use federal funds to proselytize or provide religious sectarian instruction.
- Cannot discriminate against nonmembers in providing services. They must remain open to all and cannot practice religious discrimination against the populations they serve.
- Must comply with federal anti-discrimination laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Religious organizations that receive federal dollars cannot discriminate with respect to hiring for government-funded social service programs.
- Can only use taxpayer dollars on secular programs and initiatives.
- Must prove their efficacy and be judged based on program effectiveness. They will be expected to demonstrate proven program outcomes to continue to receive funding. Obama will fund programs that work and end funding for programs that do not — whether they are large or small, well-established or new, faith-based or otherwise.
I understand many of us would prefer him not giving money to “faith-based” groups at all, but with these conditions, they may as well be non-religious organizations.
So let him talk up his faith and get the religious votes.
It’s not like he’s doing them any special favors.
***UPDATE 1***: In addition, notice the words he used in the speech:
I’m not saying that faith-based groups are an alternative to government or secular nonprofits. And I’m not saying that they’re somehow better at lifting people up. What I’m saying is that we all have to work together – Christian and Jew, Hindu and Muslim; believer and non-believer alike – to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
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.
***UPDATE 2***: Americans United is still against this “expansion” on principle:
Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, criticized Obama’s proposed expansion of a program he said has undermined civil rights and civil liberties.
“I am disappointed that any presidential candidate would want to continue a failed policy of the Bush administration,” he said. “It ought to be shut down, not continued.”
Well, yes, it should be shut down altogether, I agree. But realistically, Obama can’t get rid of the faith-based program without pissing off large numbers of religious voters. So his alternative is to keep it and make it as secular as possible. Which seems to be where he’s going with it.
***UPDATE 3***: Americans United says a bit more in this press release. Note the headline and sub-headline at the top:
Obama Support For Expansion Of ‘Faith-Based’ Program Is Disappointing, Says Americans United
But Watchdog Group Says Candidate’s Opposition To Religious Discrimination In Hiring And Publicly Funded Proselytism Are Steps In Right Direction
“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.”
***UPDATE 4***: American Atheists apparently did not get the memo on anything written above. In an email, they write:
Frank Zindler, Acting President of American Atheists, said that Obama
was “horse trading the constitutional separation of government and
religion for votes.”
“This makes it official — the Democrats are trying to outdo their
Republican colleagues in using religion and the lure of more taxpayer
money to turn houses of worship into voting blocks,” said Zindler.
“Obama wants to continue the discriminatory policy of taxing millions of
Atheists, Freethinkers, Humanists and other Americans who profess no
religious beliefs, and give that money to organized religion. That’s
unfair, that’s discriminatory, and it endangers our First Amendment
Dave Silverman, Communications Director for American Atheists, said that the Obama pledge to continue Bush’s programs is a risky economic and social experiment. “The faith-based initiative allows religious groups to use our money in programs that are poorly monitored, have little or no accountability, and drain resources for their more effective secular counterparts,” said Silverman. “This is pandering to religious groups, and offers the lure of free government cash in exchange for political support.”
***UPDATE 5***: The Council for Secular Humanism joins in on the attack parade in their own press release:
The Council for Secular Humanism regrets that Senator Barack Obama has seen fit to affirm a willingness to extend the unconstitutional faith-based diversion of tax dollars to religious institutions as begun by President Bush. “This is basically religious pandering,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism.
“We find it regrettable that the current climate in the United States requires candidates, who obviously should know better, to promise grave compromises of the wall of separation between religion and government in order to even stand a chance of being elected to high office,” continued Lindsay
The Council is disappointed that Obama’s plan appears to allow federal funds to flow directly to houses of worship. “Not only does this impermissibly entangle religion and government, Obama’s plan threatens the autonomy of religious bodies by allowing government intrusion directly into the activities of the house of worship,” said Lindsay. “The audits, compliance reviews, and reporting requirements that the government will have to perform to account for the funds will threaten the autonomy and integrity of the house of worship.”
***UPDATE 6***: The right wing Heritage Foundation is blasting Obama for his proposal! You know if they’re mad, he did something right:
… even worse, Obama’s plan says that when a faith-based organization takes federal dollars, it would lose its ability to preserve its faith-based character through maintaining hiring standards consistent with its mission. It could be forced to hire an atheist. In other words, it would strike at the heart of the faith-based initiative.
***UPDATE 7***: The Secular Coalition for America weighs in:
The Coalition calls for the next administration to end, not re-invent, the flawed and failed experiment called the faith-based initiative. Twisting our Constitution to fit a “new and improved” version can’t change the fact that funneling tax dollars to religious organizations is, at its core, unconstitutional.
Because the current program is rife with problems, the Secular Coalition for America thanks Senator Obama for recognizing the constitutional dangers of faith-based programs: using federal funds to proselytize, religious tests for aid recipients, and religious discrimination in hiring practices. Unfortunately, it appears that Obama still fails to understand that constitutional mandates quite simply prohibit “federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples, and mosques.”
Direct federal funding of houses of worship, regardless of how the funds are used, is a violation of the separation of church and state.