Even as I knew there would be issues on which I and other progressives would disagree with President Obama, I really didn't think that disagreement would revolve around doling out tax money to faith-based groups.
While I think his heart is in the right place, I also think that creating a White House "faith" office is a mistake.
Obama believes that faith-based organizations working in their communities are a precious resource. At the National Prayer Breakfast yesterday, he said "People trust them. Communities rely on them. And we will help them."
And Obama's faith-based czar, Joshua DuBois, said "The government can't do everything. We have to work with the groups that are in the communities."
According to a McClatchy article, Obama's aides "stressed that he wouldn't allow government money to be used in programs that preach one religion or that refuse to hire people who don't share their religion.
That, however, is precisely where the rubber hits the road. Again, from McClatchy: "...Obama left in place five executive orders signed by Bush that allow the groups receiving government funds to proselytize or refuse to hire non-believers. One, signed on Dec. 12, 2002, specifically decreed that the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech meant that any group should be able to receive federal taxpayer money 'without impairing their independence, autonomy, expression or religious character.'"
In other words, what Obama's aides said is not true.
Obama learned first-hand that some religiously-based community groups can do good work on behalf of the communities in which they exist. No argument there.
Problems remain, however. First of all, it is certainly questionable whether or not the federal government should use your tax dollars and mine to fund the work of a religious institution. The determining factor is not whether they do good work; it is whether we should abide by the Constitution of the land which forbids the recognition of any religion.
Furthermore, religious institutions are voluntary organizations and are funded by the contibutions or tithes of their members. If they wish to engage in activity that is social in nature and beneficial to the community, more power to them, but it isn't the responsibility of the government to pay for these "sincere" efforts. Religious institutions, no matter how worthy their cause, are not to be adjuncts of the United States government!
Finally, it is the case that the great majority of religious organizations that received federal monies under the Bush administration were of the Christian fundamentalist persuasion. It is also the case that many of these religious organizations that engage in "service" to the community do so under false pretenses. There is not one single, fundamentalist/evangelical organization that operates on a purely social basis. Not one. These groups all are evangelistic in nature and exclusionary in fact. The purpose of their existence is to bring people to a "born again" relationship with Jesus Christ. Everything flows from that. Secondly, most of them require that their employees be born again believers; they are exclusionary.
How Obama is going to deal with that problem is unclear, if he plans to tackle it at all.
My proposal would be to dump the faith-based office. It is nothing more than the wet-dream of fundamentalist/evangelical Christians to siphon money from the government teat anyway.
Let's put our money into secular organizations that exist for the purpose of giving aid and comfort to the physical and mental needs of our under-classes. The churches and their related organizations can provide soul soap and other spiritual necessities, paid for by their members.
The entire McClatchy article is here.
In the video below, Keith Olbermann visits the issue in July 2008, as it arose on the campaign trail. What he said then remains operative today.