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Obama's Faith-Based Initiatives

When it comes to polarizing issues like abortion rights and the separation of church and state, is there a way to split the difference? President Obama sought to carve out a middle ground on both issues yesterday, with only limited success.

Michelle Boorstein and Kimberly Kindy write in The Washington Post: "President Obama yesterday announced the creation of his faith-based outreach office, expanding its agenda beyond funding social programs to work on policies aimed at strengthening family life and reducing abortion....

"Obama's move more fully formalizes the partnerships between the federal government and faith groups that first began under President Bill Clinton and was expanded by President George W. Bush. But where Bush used the faith office primarily for funding programs -- drawing criticism that he was mainly assisting his political supporters -- Obama said he wants to use the office for policy guidance, as well."

Rob Stein writes in The Washington Post: "In a series of moves, he is attempting to nudge the debate away from the morality and legality of abortion and toward a goal he hopes both sides can endorse: decreasing the number of women who terminate their pregnancies by addressing the reasons they might choose the procedure.

"The strategy is being met by deep skepticism from many prominent antiabortion activists, but it has been embraced by some others as well as by leading abortion rights activists, who hope it could fundamentally reshape one of the nation's most intransigent political stalemates."

Peter Wallsten and Duke Helfand write in the Los Angeles Times: "It seemed like a firm campaign promise. Barack Obama pledged to continue President Bush's faith-based office in the White House, but with a key change: Groups receiving federal money would no longer be allowed to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion.

"On Thursday, however, as President Obama disclosed the details of his faith-based program, he left the controversial Bush policy in place....

"The hiring issue was a major point of controversy between Bush and Democrats. The president signed an executive order in 2002 that paved the way for allowing federal grants to certain groups that hired only people of like-minded religions. Supporters of the policy argued that a small Christian organization, for example, could not operate according to its ideals if it were forced to hire non-Christians.

"Obama clearly singled out the policy during a campaign speech in July, declaring that '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.'

"But once he won the election, religious conservatives began lobbying Obama and his transition team on the issue. It was the subject of intense internal debate, according to participants."

Other than not explicitly banning discrimination by groups that take federal money, the panel Obama created by executive order yesterday did sound just like what he outlined in that July speech. And at the time, he said: "[M]ake 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."

Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU's Washington legislative office, had this to say in a statement: "What we are seeing today is significant -- a president giving his favored clergy a governmental stamp of approval. There is no historical precedent for presidential meddling in religion – or religious leaders meddling in federal policy – through a formal government advisory committee made up mostly of the president’s chosen religious leaders."

By Dan Froomkin  |  February 6, 2009; 12:46 PM ET
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"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"

I'm okay with Obama's compromise on discrimination as long as he sticks to the proselytizing promise. I think it's a pretty good balance that keeps government from directly funding religious recruitment.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | February 6, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

I am already subsidizing religion by not asking them to pay their fair share of taxes. Giving them more of my money is absurd. Preachers live better(and are fatter) than 90% of the country anyway. Let them pay taxes like the rest of us and live on what they can steal from their 'flock'. If they truly believe that a man lives on a cloud and predestines their lives, they should need no help from anyone. Gawd will provide.

Posted by: davidbn27 | February 6, 2009 2:25 PM | Report abuse

I wonder how much money the Rev William "God Damn America" Wright's church is gonna get?

Posted by: SharpshootingPugilist | February 6, 2009 2:30 PM | Report abuse

I'm an atheist and I'm a lesbian. Under Obama, as under Bush, my tax dollars will go to groups than can use their religion as a reason to refuse to hire me for even the most menial of jobs.

This is not change I can believe in. This is more taxpayer-funded discrimination. We had enough of that under Bush.

Posted by: S1VA | February 6, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

>I wonder how much money the Rev William "God Damn America" Wright's church is gonna get?

Probably not as much as Rick "Bigot" Warren's.

Posted by: troyd2009 | February 6, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

My wife and I as die-hard Democrats worked for and contributed to Obama's campaign. As a US Army vet, I am indeed delighted that he has at least "on paper" promised to close GITMO. But, that is about it. Nothing else he has done so far would make us to campaign for him again for the following reasons:
1. As a devout Christian, I resent my tax dollars being used without my consent to fund religious organizations. I consider the separation of church and state as a wall that should never be breached if we are to remain as the shining city on the hill. If we dont, but go forward as Obama does, we cannot criticize the Jehadi governments of the Middle East for trying to spread their brand of Islam thro the funding of madrasahs and construction of mosques even in little hamlets of other nations where there are hardly 100 Muslim families. Besides, Obama's much-publicized Interfaith Council does not include representation for non-Abrahamic faiths like Buddhism, Hinduism, Bahai, Sikhism, Taoism etc. Obama is playing up to the evangelical right and trying hard to court the Muslims and Jews...just another politician is what we see emerging in Obama.
2. Despite his commitment to shun all lobbyists from his government, he has so far exempted the appointment of 16 or 17 ex-lobbyists into his government. Gaithner should have been rejected. I applaud Daschle's good sense and the poor sense of Obama to continue backing him.
3. His naive appointments of the so-called members of his "team of rivals", especially those like LaHood, and Judd make me wonder about Obama's sincerity of his campaign promises to bring about the "change we can believe in".
4. Obama's readiness to compromise on worthwhile educational and social spending in the stimulus bill and his naive efforts to cajole his Republican opponensts seem to indicate to me that he is too fixated on making Doris Goodwin's Team of Rivals become a sort of "self-fulfilling" prophecy so that he can go down in the history books as the "second Lincoln"!

Posted by: calexo | February 7, 2009 9:50 AM | Report abuse

Stimulate EVERYTHING! Give the stimulus money to the people, not the machine that destroyed our economy. We will pay off debt alleviating the credit crisis and bank cash shortfall, pay off (or down, or up to date) mortgages saving the housing market, buy the things we need to stimulate everyone, go on a vacation, get the medical and dental care we have been denied without insurance... Isn't this still a governmant of the people, by the people, for the people? Or, is President Obama trying to be invited to the Bush family for Thanksgiving?

Posted by: matthewpesce | February 10, 2009 9:00 AM | Report abuse

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