Obama Continues Bush “Faith Based” Programs

By Larry Jones 

Barack Obama, both while campaigning and as president, had promised to keep the so-call Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships initiative consistent with the First Amendment’s insistence on the separation of church and state. But this has not been the case. 
 
Campaigning in Zanesville, Ohio on January 7, 2008, Obama said: “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.”
 
Encouraging words, if true. But such was not to be.
 
A month after he officially became president, his office announced that the priorities of the faith based office will be carried out “in a way that upholds the Constitution. … adding a new mechanism for the Executive Director of the Office to work through the White House Counsel to seek the advice of the Attorney General on difficult legal and constitutional issues.” 
 
What that actually meant was that issues like proselytizing in the church building where secular programs take place, or discriminating in hiring based on one’s religion or sexual orientation would not be banned outright but would be decided as the Attorney General sees fit. So the reality is that such proselytizing and discrimination is still going on.
 
Americans United for Separation of Church and State urged the Department of Justice (DOJ) to discontinue Bush-era funding for four fundamentalist groups that openly discriminate and proselytize, DOJ attorneys dealt with the request by saying that the groups had been told not to do that anymore. Surely they’ll listen, right?
 
Imagine a youthful professional social worker who wants to devote her life to serving the poor. She applies for a job at a church in a low-income part of town, but is turned away because she is a Unitarian, or worse yet, an atheist. Born-again Christians only need apply. If that church is receiving faith based federal money, it is clearly breaking the law and violating the Constitution. Yet, that’s just what is still happening, Obama’s promises to the contrary notwithstanding.
 
Imagine a church receiving faith based money holding a secular program in one of the church buildings. So far, so good. But take another look. On the four walls of the room are biblical pictures ranging from one of Jesus with the little children to one of Jesus hanging in agony on a cross. So far, NO good, illegal and unconstitutional. Yet that’s still happening under Obama, just as it did under Bush.
 
World Vision has received millions from the government and is unapologetic about hiring only Christians in its many projects, both in the U.S. and around the world. World Vision official Fabiano Franz has offered the convoluted reasoning that "We're very clear from the beginning about hiring Christians. It's not a surprise, so it's not discrimination." 
 
So by this standard, if you’re open about your discrimination, it’s not discrimination.
What did the president mean when he spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 4 saying that his administration has "turned the faith-based initiative around?" Did he mean to indicate that the lawlessness that had been going on was now a thing of the past? Or was he essentially dodging the issue for the fundamentalist organization which organized the breakfast meeting? It appears that it was the latter.
 
This was so Obama-esque, trying to please both sides of a controversy with the result that the religious right is appeased and progressive peoples’ “hope and change” expectations are dashed.
 
People who Care are Speaking Up
 
Some critics of Obama’s inaction have requested that recipients of faith-based money be required to set up non-profit corporations to receive and administer the funds. And now, Obama’s Advisory Council for the program has voted to recommend just that, although the 13 -12 vote was pretty much split between conservatives who were against it and the not-so-conservatives who were for it.
 
Some 25 religious and national policy groups have had enough, and while they have not called for mass protests by those who want to protect civil rights, as we would hope they would, they have nonetheless written a strong letter to Obama. The joint letter states; "We urge you to act now to restore the constitutionally-required safeguards and civil rights protections governing partnerships between government and religiously-affiliated institutions, standard operating procedures that had been largely in place for decades prior to the creation of the Faith-Based Initiative."
 
Among the letter’s signatories were 6 Jewish groups, gay defense organizations, Sikhs, various Christian groups, and such national policy groups as the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
 
In a separate letter to the president, the Center for Inquiry, the largest organization representing nonreligious Americans, criticized the “lack of engagement of secular organizations by your Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.” They pointed out that under Bush many secular social service agencies were forced to shut their doors due to lack of government assistance, and urged Obama to reverse that and remember that the Office is for Faith-Based AND Neighborhood Partnerships.
What has become increasingly clear is that Obama is not inclined to do much that will offend the religious right.
 
Main Projects Organizers Larry Jones Obama Continues Bush “Faith Based” Programs

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World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.