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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Obama’s Faith-Based Organizations Initiative

Today in Ohio Barack Obama announced that he would promote a much more robust initiative than George W. Bush to involve faith-based organizations in anti-poverty and other worthy public works, while insisting that public funds not be used to proselytize or discriminate.
As Steve Benen explains, there was some initial confusion due to a wire story–quickly corrected by the Obama campaign–that Obama would not insist on non-discrimination in the hiring and firing of staff for publicly-funded services.
And that clarification won’t satisfy those who believe that public dollars should not be extended to any organization, religious or ortherwise, that discriminates in any of its activities, however remote from publicly-funded activities.
It hasn’t drawn as much initial attention as the discrimination issue, but Obama also made it clear that recipients of public dollars under his initiative would be required to demonstrate the effectiveness of their programs. That proviso was undoubtedly motivated by the widespread perception that much of Bush’s faith-based dollars were distributed as ill-disguised payoffs to ministers who supported the administration’s broader political and policy goals.

3 comments on “Obama’s Faith-Based Organizations Initiative

  1. ducdebrabant on

    Apparently, under Obama’s proposal, you can also discriminate against gay people with U.S. taxpayer money, as long as you’re in a state and municipality that affords gays no legal protections:
    “And while Bush supports allowing all religious groups to make any employment decisions based on faith, Obama proposes allowing religious institutions to hire and fire based on religion only in the non-taxpayer-funded portions of their activities — consistent with current federal, state, and local laws. ”That makes perfect sense,” he said.
    Where there are state or local laws prohibiting hiring choices based on sexual orientation in the federally funded portion of the programs, he said he would support those being applied.”
    If there are no such state or local laws, there are no similar strings of the federal money. So in Nebraska, you can take my federal tax dollars, and tell any gay applicants willing to work for those tax dollars to go away and — literally — go to hell.

  2. edkilgore on

    I think the confusion relates to the distinction I made in the post between non-discrimination in publicly funded projects, and non-discrimination elsewhere. Looks to me like Obama will insist on the former, but not the latter. But presumably evidence of the latter would create a red flag requiring exceptional scrutiny of the former.
    One way to resolve this (as indeed, has long been the case with Catholic hospitals and charities) is to require recipients of public money to set up separate organizations for the publicly-funded projects, to ensure that money doesn’t “leak” over to activities not covered by non-discrimination rules. But I gather this is considered a burden for many very small FBOs.
    Thanks for the comment.
    Ed Kilgore

  3. ducdebrabant on

    It’s interesting that although Obama claims he wouldn’t allow employment discrimination, a member of his campaign credible enough to be quoted by the AP says that he DOES plan to allow it. I wonder if the latter is a previously agreed-upon fallback position, and Obama’s cover (as usual) will be the need to “compromise for the greater good.” The Salvation Army is on record as wanting an exemption from local anti-discrimination law so that it won’t have to hire any homosexuals. No need even to go into the Boy Scouts situation. The main (perhaps the only) effect of not requiring grantees to pledge employment non-discrimination would probably be on gay people. They’re the only minority anybody claims to have a RELIGIOUS objection to hiring. Even Christian evangelicals make common cause now with Jews.
    This entire endorsement of Bush’s policy of chipping away at the separation of Church and State is so disappointing to me that I notice with great interest Taegan Goddard’s site (which takes note of everything else political that gets a headline anywhere) hasn’t touched it with a ten foot pole. Unless he plans on writing a long piece on it, he’s just ignoring it. Speaking of Taegan Goddard’s site, you’re allowed to call Barney Frank a “fudge fan” there without getting deleted, but when I posted something about the faith-based policy under a non-germane thread, it was gone instantly.


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