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Showing posts with label White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Show all posts
Showing posts with label White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Show all posts

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Shackles Follow Shekels

From The Asbury Park Press
ByCharles C. Haynes

When President Barack Obama launched his faith-based initiative at the National Prayer Breakfast last month, he promised not only to sustain the Bush administration's signature domestic program — but to expand it.

For religious groups, this means continued access to billions of federal dollars for a wide range of social services — from homeless shelters to drug rehabilitation programs — run by houses of worship across the nation.

Critics of the Bush faith-based initiative have long charged that tax money has flowed to religious groups without sufficient constitutional safeguards against such practices as religious discrimination in hiring and proselytizing in government-funded programs.

In announcing his version of the program, Obama pledged not to blur "the line our founders wisely drew between church and state." But it remains to be seen exactly where this president intends to draw that line.

Many religious and political conservatives are pressuring the new administration not to place limits on preaching or hiring, arguing that religious groups must be free to carry out their mission in ways authentic to their faith. Meanwhile, many civil libertarians are warning of more political and legal fallout if the proselytizing and employment issues aren't addressed.

Just this month, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union asked a federal appeals court to allow taxpayers to challenge public funding of a Baptist child care agency in Kentucky that Americans United alleges "proselytizes youngsters in its care and discriminates against gay employees who do not share its belief that homosexuality is sinful."

However Obama resolves this debate — and the betting is that he will side with civil rights groups and church-state watchdogs — houses of worship should think twice about the wisdom of getting into bed with the government in the first place.

During the Bush era, I asked an evangelical leader if he thought sending tax money to religious groups for social services was constitutional. He said yes — but he still advises congregations not to take the money. The government, he said, is like a python: Once you are entangled, you get the life squeezed out of you.

Lest we forget, the establishment clause of the First Amendment is intended not only to prevent religious control of government, but also government control of religion. State-imposed regulations and conditions inevitably dilute the faith in faith-based programs. As they say in Washington, with shekels come shackles.

Government money also threatens religious autonomy and freedom. Under the First Amendment, religious groups in America have always relied on the voluntary support of adherents to advance their mission. As a consequence, faith groups have been free to speak truth to power without fear of state reprisal. But reliance on government support would surely muffle that prophetic voice.

In stark contrast to the moribund, tax-supported churches in Western Europe, thousands of American faith communities thrive in the marketplace of religious competition. Separating church from state is very good for religion and essential for full religious liberty.

Of course, the temptation is to take the money — especially at a time when so many people are in such dire need of help. But when government funding compromises the faith mission, undermines religious independence and creates dependency on government, it is too high a price to pay.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Obama Begins Outreach to Evangelical Groups

Knowing both the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America, I don't think they are likely to be compromised or subverted by any charm offensive put on by the Obama Administration; and it is good they are seizing the opportunity to make their case.

From Congressional Quarterly
By Adriel Bettelheim

The Obama administration may have angered evangelical Christians by overturning President Bush's curbs on embryonic stem cell research and prohibitions on sending aid to groups that support abortion overseas.

But that doesn't mean the White House is shutting out its adversaries.

Joshua DuBois, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, on Tuesday will host representatives of evangelical groups, including the Family Research Council and Concerned Women of America in an effort to find some common ground, White House officials confirmed on Monday.

This is a not inconsequential gathering. Obama sees the office's mission extending beyond the Bush administration's often controversial faith-based program, to include reaching out to the Muslim world and reducing abortions. During his campaign, Obama spoke about having religious leaders serve as a kind of moral center for his administration and ponder initiatives in the area of immigration, health care and education.

One topic likely to come up: a Justice Department review of a Bush administration policy allowing recipients of faith-based funding to discriminate in providing services. Obama stopped short of rescinding the Bush policy when he created the faith-based office in early February, to the consternation of many on the political left, and instead ordered the review.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Obama Picks Religious Adviser DuBois for Faith-Based Post

From Associated Baptist Press
By Robert Marus

President Obama has selected a 26-year-old Pentecostal minister who served as his top religion adviser during the presidential campaign to head a revamped White House office on faith-based social services.

Critics of President Bush’s attempt to expand the government’s ability to fund the charitable work of churches expressed guarded optimism at the pick of Joshua DuBois to head the renamed White House Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The New York Times first reported Jan. 29 that DuBois, who joined the Obama campaign last year and served as its chief liaison with the evangelical Christian community, would head the new council. Other news outlets confirmed the news.

Burns Strider, who served as a religious strategist with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, said Obama's choice of DuBois “is no surprise, but even more it’s an indicator of the importance placed on the goals and work of the faith office.” Strider, a Mississippi native who was raised Southern Baptist, now does consulting with the Eleison Group, which focuses on faith and politics.

Advocates of strict church-state separation who have criticized direct government funding for explicitly religious charities and the way Bush used the faith-based issue were largely supportive of the expected appointment. But they said thorny questions remain for how Obama will handle the faith-based effort.

Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, described DuBois as “an impressive, compassionate advocate with whom I have had several opportunities to meet throughout the electoral campaign and the work of President Obama's transition team."

Gaddy said he would have preferred Obama close the office altogether, but since the president has chosen simply to re-tool it, “the question remains whether or not a change in the name of the office as organized by the Bush administration will reflect substantive change in the policies of the Obama administration that advocates for religious liberty find acceptable.”

Gaddy, who also serves as pastor for preaching and worship at Northminster Baptist Church in Monroe, La., said he was “cautiously optimistic” that Obama’s faith-based office would avoid the mistakes he thought Bush’s made.

“In recent conversations, senior transition officials assured me of President Obama's interest in establishing a council that protects religious freedom and assures constitutional separation between the institutions of religion and government,” he added.

Gaddy and other church-state separationists opposed many aspects of the initiative, which Bush used to expand the numbers of government social-service programs that provided grants directly to churches and other overtly religious charities. While Bush and his supporters contended that churches were unnecessarily being left out of the programs, opponents said religious charities were already eligible for such grants as long as they clearly separated their clearly religious work from their other charitable work.

Bush officials argued that religious organizations should be eligible for funds on the same basis as secular providers, while retaining their special rights to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion.

That aspect of the program proved the most contentious in Congress, and Gaddy and others have expressed hope that Obama would reverse Bush actions allowing religious organizations receiving federal funds to take religion into account when hiring for jobs wholly or partially subsidized with government dollars.

Obama promised not to allow discrimination under the program in a July campaign speech, but he and his surrogates have said little about the issue since.

Given the new president’s background in constitutional law and assurances they have received from DuBois and other Obama officials, opponents of Bush’s faith-based efforts expressed hope that the new administration in general -- and DuBois in particular -- would handle the initiative in ways more sensitive to their concerns.

“Josh clearly has the background and interest in bringing diverse groups together for a common purpose,” Holly Hollman, general counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee, said Jan. 30. “He recognized the need to carefully consider various approaches to the more difficult aspects of the policy. We were pleased that he listened to our suggestions for correcting some of the problems in the Bush administration’s approach and that he expressed a real desire to get things right.”

Another criticism of the faith-based push under Bush was that his White House politicized the effort. That included accusations of grants to conservative religious groups as payoffs for their support of Bush in the 2000 and 2004 elections.

Strider said efforts to increase funding for faith-based groups under President Clinton’s administration did not prove the political football they did under Bush, and that he expected DuBois and Obama to handle the effort in a similar fashion to Clinton.

“Politics doesn’t belong in the faith-based office, and we are fortunate President Obama chose a trusted adviser in Rev. DuBois who is committed to dialogue with the whole faith community and will focus on programs and services that work for all,” he said.