Main | Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Conflicting Signals

Hot on the heels of yesterday's announcement that he opposes the gay marriage ban referendum in California, Barack Obama announced that if elected, he will expand Dubya's controversial "faith-based initiatives" programs.
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.

Obama was unveiling his approach to getting religious charities more involved in government anti-poverty programs during a tour and remarks Tuesday at Eastside Community Ministry in Zanesville, Ohio. The arm of Central Presbyterian Church operates a food bank, provides clothes, has a youth ministry and provides other services in its impoverished community.

"The challenges we face today, from putting people back to work to improving our schools, from saving our planet to combating HIV/AIDS to ending genocide, are simply too big for government to solve alone," Obama was to say, according to a prepared text of his remarks obtained by The Associated Press. "We need all hands on deck."

But Obama's support for letting religious charities that receive federal funding consider religion in employment decisions was likely to invite a storm of protest from those who view such faith requirements as discrimination.
Yes, let's give hundreds of millions of dollars to right-wing Christian groups who work day and night to thwart LGBT rights. We'll get a bowl of soup and a good talking to!

UPDATE: More on the story from the Washington Post..
Sen. Barack Obama will travel to a swing district of eastern Ohio this morning to propose strengthening the White House program extending assistance to faith-based and community social service organization while insisting those organization not discriminate against aid recipients. The $500-million-a-year program would also create 1 million new slots for summer jobs and education programs.

"I'm not saying that faith-based groups are an alternative to government or secular nonprofits, and I'm not saying that they're somhow better at lifting people up," Obama's prepared remarks say. "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."

George W. Bush first proposed federal assistance to religious organizations during his 2000 presidential campaign, a proposal seconded by then-Vice President Al Gore as both were reaching out to evangelical voters. But Bush's faith-based initiative has been mired in controversy. It's first director, John DiIulio, quit the White House and charged the administration was stocked with "Mayberry Machiavellis" more interested in politics than policy.

Obama aides said the current program requires faith-based organizations interested in assistance to attend conferences in Washington to learn how to apply, which has reduced participation to a few savvy groups. Instead, he would set up "community partners" to "train the trainers" to apply in a more streamlined fashion.

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.

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