Sacramento Freethinkers Atheists & Nonbelievers (FAN) Message Board › Obama Endorses "Faith-Based" Programs (AP/ 01 July 2008)
Obama to expand Bush's faith-based programs
By JENNIFER LOVEN, Associated Press Writer
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.
David Kuo, a conservative Christian who was deputy director of Bush's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives until 2003 and later became a critic of Bush's commitment to the cause, said Obama's position has the potential to be a major "Sister Souljah moment" for his campaign.
This is a reference to Bill Clinton's accusation in his 1992 presidential campaign that the hip hop artist incited violence against whites. Because Clinton said this before a black audience, it fed into an image of him as a bold politician who was willing to take risks and refused to pander.
"It would be a very, very, very interesting thing," said Kuo, who is not an Obama adviser or supporter but was contacted by the campaign to review the new plan.
Kuo called Obama's approach smart, impressive and well thought-out but took a wait-and-see attitude about whether it would deliver.
"When it comes to promises to help the poor, promises are easy," said Kuo, who wrote a 2006 book described his frustration at what he called Bush's lackluster enthusiasm for the program. "The question is commitment."
Obama proposes to elevate the program to a "moral center" of his administration, by renaming it the Office of Community and Faith-Based Partnerships, and changing training from occasional huge conferences to empowering larger religious charities to mentor smaller ones in their communities.
He also proposes a $500 million per year program to provide summer learning for 1 million poor children to help close achievement gaps with white and wealthier students. A campaign fact sheet said he would pay for it by better managing surplus federal properties, reducing growth in the federal travel budget and streamlining the federal procurement process.
Like Bush, Obama was arguing that religious organizations can and should play a bigger role in serving the poor and meeting other social needs. But while Bush argued that the strength of religious charities lies primarily in shared religious identity between workers and recipients, Obama was to tout the benefits of their "bottom-up" approach.
"Because they're so close to the people, they're well-placed to offer help," he was to say.
Obama does not see a need to push for a law to make this program work as Bush did, said a senior adviser to the campaign, who spoke on condition of anonymity to more freely describe the new policy.
Bush never got Congress to go along so he conducted his effort to give religious groups equal footing with nonsectarian groups in competing for federal contracts through administrative actions and executive orders.
Obama does not support requiring religious tests for aid recipients nor using federal money to proselytize, the official said.
Obama's announcement is part of a series of events leading up to Friday's Fourth of July holiday that are focused on American values.
The Democratic presidential candidate spent Monday talking about his vision of patriotism in the battleground state of Missouri. With Tuesday's talk about faith, Obama was attempting to settle debate in two key areas where his beliefs have come under question.
He planned to talk bluntly about the genesis of his Christian faith in his work as a community organizer in Chicago, and its importance to him now.
"In time, I came to see faith as being both a personal commitment to Christ and a commitment to my community; that while I could sit in church and pray all I want, I wouldn't be fulfilling God's will unless I went out and did the Lord's work," he was to say.