July 1, 2008

Obama To Continue Bush's Faith-Based Idiocy?

The Huffington Post is reporting that Sen. Barack Obama is reaching out to evangelical Christian voters by promising to expand President Bush's faith-based programs. He wants to give more federal money to religious groups and has reportedly gone as far as saying that these agencies should be able to hire and fire based on faith. Obama's disappointing capitulation on the Bush/Hoyer FISA deal alienated many civil liberties advocates, but his position on governmental support for faith-based agencies is sure to alienate many atheists.

In the opinion of this author, there can be a role for religious organizations in providing social service functions. However, certain provisions are necessary for this to be acceptable. If these organizations are going to receive federal money, they must be subject to the same standards of accountability which secular agencies must meet. This means that they must be held to the same standards with regard to oversight. No exemptions simply because they are religious. In addition, for religious organizations to receive federal money, such organizations must be subject to federal anti-discrimination law. They should not be allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion. However, this appears to be exactly what Obama wants to allow them to do. This is unacceptable.
Obama does not support requiring religious tests for recipients of aid nor using federal money to proselytize, according to a campaign fact sheet. He also only supports letting religious institutions hire and fire based on faith in the non-taxpayer funded portions of their activities, said a senior adviser to the campaign, who spoke on condition of anonymity to more freely describe the new policy.
This sounds good, but how could faith-based hiring and firing possibly be restricted to the non-taxpayer funded parts of these group's activities? This does not seem feasible and would require far more oversight that I'd expect the federal government to actually enforce.

I'm all for working to end poverty and certainly agree that the government is not doing nearly enough in this regard. However, governmental support of faith-based programs erodes the wall of separation between church and state. It is worse than unnecessary; it continues to elevate religion to an undeserved status in American society.

Update: It now appears that the Huffington Post report may have overstated things a bit. For more on this developing story, see Friendly Atheist.

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