Obama’s faith-based inertia

By David Waters Add government funding of faith-based programs to the list of Obama administration deficiencies identified by disaffected parties … Continued

By David Waters

Add government funding of faith-based programs to the list of Obama administration deficiencies identified by disaffected parties on the left and the right.

In recent days, religious leaders ranging from liberal Rev. Barry Lynn (Americans United for Separation of Church and State) to conservative Rev. Frank Page (Southern Baptist Convention) have expressed deep disappointment with the work of Obama’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which was created to reform President George W. Bush’s White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

If both religious progressives and conservatives are finding fault with Obama’s faith-based inertia, the administration’s faith-based initiative doesn’t have a prayer.

Last week on Huffington Post, Lynn noted that Obama congratulated himself at the National Prayer Breakfast for having “turned the faith-based initiative around.” Yes, but only if by turning he meant 360 degrees, Lynn noted.

“The core of Obama’s faith-based initiative looks pretty much identical to the deeply problematic one created by President George W. Bush,” Lynn wrote. “One year after Obama announced his version of the faith-based office, civil rights and civil liberties groups such as mine are still fighting Bush-era battles over tax funding to religious groups that proselytize, job discrimination on religious grounds in public programs and lack of accountability. It’s disheartening.”

Meanwhile, over on the right side of the congregation, former Southern Baptist Convention president Page, one of 25 members of Obama’s faith-based advisory council, finds himself losing heart as well. The council was formed a year ago this month to advise the president on how the administration can assist faith-based efforts to address poverty, interfaith dialogue, fatherhood and climate change (as well as reforming the faith-based office).

The issues discussed “were carefully chose(n) to avoid debate and arguments,” Page told Post reporters Michelle Boorstein and William Wan. “When the president launched his office, he talked about abortion reduction as one of his four priorities. That was very quickly taken off the table as something we’d deal with.”

Americans United and 24 other groups, including the Interfaith Alliance and the Union of Reform Judaism, sent Obama a letter Friday asking him to fix the faith-based initiative, “to prevent government-funded religious discrimination and protect social service beneficiaries from unwelcome proselytizing.”

There doesn’t appear to be any mobilizing of protesters on the right, but that likely won’t happen unless the administration ignores Bush-era rules that let publicly funded faith-based groups discriminate in hiring on religious grounds.

The U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops, for example, one of the largest faith-based recipients of government funds, is on record as opposing efforts to prohibit discrimination in hiring or delivery of services. “Government bodies should not require Catholic institutions to compromise their moral convictions to participate in government health or human service programs.”

(This was a big issue late last year when the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington threatened to pull out of its social service contracts if the District approved gay marriage.)

The Obama administration’s efforts to build a multifaith consensus on government funding of faith-based social services is commendable, but ultimately doomed. Conservative religious groups will never compromise on the hiring issue, and progressive religious groups will never be satisfied with the Bush-era status quo.

The real problem with the faith-based initiative — under Bush and Obama — is that it’s a fundamentally flawed concept. The federal government and U.S. religious groups serve two different masters. The government serves taxpayers, religious groups serve God. When it comes to distributing and overseeing the use of federal tax dollars, government overrules God.

If churches and other faith-based groups are going to apply for and accept government funding, shouldn’t they have to abide by those rules?

If not, they can decide to help people the old-fashioned way — because God calls them to, not because government pays them to.


Update: Religion News Service reports that Obama’s 25-member council advising the White House on faith-based issues voted 13-12 that the government should
require houses of worship to form separate corporations in order to receive direct federal funding for social services.

When asked whether the government should permit charities to offer social services in rooms containing religious art, symbols, messages or scripture, 16 said yes, two said no, and seven said they should be permitted if no other space is available.

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  • kenk3

    Why is there even a conversation about this?Why is the Federal Government writing checks to churches?Haven’t we heard about the separation of church and state?

  • tegularius

    Re: “If both religious progressives and conservatives are finding fault with Obama’s faith-based inertia,…”Barry Lynn is not a “religious progressive”–his group, and most of the other opponents of the faith-based plan on the left, are SECULAR progressives.

  • ccolinwvstaffmbr

    Regrettably, what’s missing from this article is context to better understand the commonly mistaken belief that this policy became legal during the Bush Administration. The truth is, this policy dates back more than 45 years when LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Congress recognized the right of all religious organizations to consider religion in hiring staff. Moreover, in 1972, Congress clarified in legislation that this right extends to every position in a religious organization – from the mail room to the corner officer. Finally, a unanimous Supreme Court upheld in 1987 that this exemption for religious employers does not violate the Constitution. Thus, long before George W. Bush moved into the White House, all three branches of government (Dare I say it?) “blessed” the opportunity for religious organizations to hire employees who share their faith, whether Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, or Christian.


    Maybe if the Right Reverend Wright were in charge Obama might come to life.

  • Utahreb

    Faith-based groups that discriminate in hiring and proselytize should NOT get any taxpayer money.Having said that, I volunteer for two basically religious groups that do not ask your faith or religion and also do not ask recipients of help those things either.St. Vincent de Paul is one of the groups and helps anyone regardless of that person’s beliefs. They do not ask volunteers such as myself my religious affiliation and do not force me to believe as most of the members do.Salvation Army is glad for my help in their thrift store and/or as a bell ringer, not asking or requiring me to be of the Christian faith.I consider myself to be an”equal opportunity heathen” and describe myself in that way. Helping others should not be dependent on one’s religious beliefs, but in a deep-seated wish to help those in need, regardless of creed, color or any other factor.

  • cstation

    Where people of faith are concerned government can never over rule God. But human beings who try to enforce their understanding of God on others is against the founding principals of this country. In this case government must speak and act in a way that benefits the most of its citizens. Religious people should never be compelled to act against their faith. But we also need to understand at times that compromise may be necessary if we are going to accept public funding.monty keeling

  • paris1969

    Let’s hope the religious continue to be disappointed in Obama … that means he is doing something right!

  • YEAL9

    In case your group would like to get funding from The HHS Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (The Partnership Center), :go to:Funding Opportunities at http://www.hhs.gov/fbci/funding/ “This page seeks to connect faith-based and COMMUNITY organizations with current funding within HHS. Additionally, it provides resources to assist faith-based and COMMUNITY organizations looking to partner with the Federal government.•Current Funding Opportunities