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Asking Obama to Reform Bush's Faith-Based Initiatives.

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In the wake of the National Prayer Breakfast this week, the group Citizens Against Religious Discrimination (CARD) is calling for Obama to address the faith-based initiatives started by the Bush administration.

Sarah Posner wrote yesterday at Religion Dispatches:

Obama had made three pledges: to end the exemption allowing federal grantees to discriminate in hiring based on religion; to require houses of worship receiving federal grants to form separate non-profits so that federal funds would not be directed to sectarian organizations; and to put in place oversight and monitoring of proselytizing by federal grantees. As president, Obama decided instead to address instances of employment discrimination on a "case-by-case basis" and to only recommend but not require separate non-profits. The administration has not unveiled any plans to beef up oversight of proselytizing by grantees.

At the National Prayer Breakfast Obama claimed that his administration had "turned the faith-based initiative around," but an article at Americans United for Separation of Church and State notes:

...Leaders of civil rights, civil liberties and religious groups say the president has failed to correct Bush-era policies.

“I was surprised and disappointed to hear President Obama suggest that the faith-based initiative has somehow been ‘turned around,’” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “In fact, in all significant ways, the Obama faith-based initiative right now is the same as the Bush faith-based initiative.

“The Bush rules and regulations are all still in place,” Lynn continued. “Administration officials have failed to safeguard the vital constitutional boundary between church and state, and they have not restored the damage to civil rights law.”

Among the things Americans United and CARD are calling for:

• Revoke a June 2007 legal memo issued by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that asserts that a 1993 religious freedom law gives religious groups the right to take tax funds and still discriminate on religious grounds in hiring. This interpretation, the joint letter asserts, is “erroneous and threatens core civil rights and religious freedom protections.”

• Issue policies making it clear that social-services providers must give proper notice to beneficiaries of their religious liberty rights and access to alternative secular providers.

• Require that houses of worship and other religious institutions that infuse religion into every program create separate corporations for the purpose of providing secular government-funded social services.

The members of CARD are religious and secular organizations who work to guarantee religious tolerance by advocating for civil liberties and separation of church and state.