Obama Outlines Faith-Based Agenda
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The notion of the government contracting with religious ministries to provide social services is not, on its face, scandalous or unconstitutional. Groups like Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services have partnered with public officials for decades, almost always without incident. There have always been safeguards in place to protect church-state separation, the integrity of the ministry, and the rights of those who receive the benefits.
The safeguards were just common sense, and helped make these partnerships legal. Independent religious agencies, not churches themselves, handled the public funds. Tax dollars supported only secular programs, and no religious discrimination with public funds was permitted.
So what happened? George W. Bush decided he wanted to re-write the rules. His White House identified those safeguards and renamed them “barriers.” To protect the First Amendment and the interests of taxpayers, the president said, was to stand in the way of churches helping families in need. The safeguards, Bush insisted, had to be eliminated.
I was working at Americans United for Separation of Church and State when Bush was pushing this, and I worked specifically on this project. So, when I saw this AP feed this morning, I nearly fell out of my chair.
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.