Magazine article Church & State

Obama's Disappointing Directive: 'Faith-Based' Initiative Needs Overhaul

Magazine article Church & State

Obama's Disappointing Directive: 'Faith-Based' Initiative Needs Overhaul

Article excerpt

Church-state separation advocates were heartened when presidential candidate Barack Obama talked about reforming the "faith-based" initiative during a major speech last July in Zanesville, Ohio.

"Now, make no mistake," Obama said, "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."

He added, "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."

It sounded as if Obama really understood the faults of George W. Bush's approach and would fix them.

Alas, it was not to be. Obama issued an executive order on faith-based initiatives Feb. 5, and it can only be termed a disappointment. He left in place five Bush faith-based directives, including one that specifically approves of hiring bias. Instead, Obama's order speaks vaguely of possibly referring the matter to White House lawyers and the Justice Department at some point in the future.

There's no need to study this matter to death. We know what needs to be done: Specifically, ban evangelism and all forms of religious bias in tax-funded programs.

Some evangelical Christian groups want to take tax funds and still preach and apply a "religious test" when hiring employees. They want to say to someone, "You're Jewish, and we don't hire Jews here--even though your tax dollars paid for this job." Or they want to be able to hire and fire based on lifestyle--denying jobs to gay people, divorced folks, single morns, the non-religious, etc. …

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