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Jul 7 2008
Obama calls for more "faith based grants"

I've been a critic of the Bush administration's diversion of government funds to religious organizations in the form of "faith based grants". Although the goals of helping the needy is an admirable one, this attempt to fix it faces several problems:

1) Is the government really treating different religions equally here, or is it going to give preference to those religious groups most similar to its own views (e.g. evangelical Christianity in the case of the Bush administration)?

2) Are the organizations REALLY using the money for these charitable purposes, or are they pulling out some to pay for things that actually benefit their members (e.g. bigger and better church facilities)?

3) Can the government give money to religious groups that discriminate on the basis of religion in their own hiring or in the services they provide?

4) Are the organizations using the needy as a captive group to prosyletize?

Depending on the answers, the government may be using "faith based grants" as a way to do things that they actually should not be doing. In other words, I do fear that this is nothing but a deceptive way to tear down the "wall of separation between church and state" which Jefferson and Madison (and I) agree is so important to religious freedom in this country.

That's why I was very worried to hear that Barrack Obama -- whom I'm seriously considering voting for in November -- has been making statements that seem to put him in the Bush camp on this issue.

From the New York Times:

Senator Barack Obama said Tuesday that if elected president he would expand the delivery of social services through churches and other religious organizations, vowing to achieve a goal he said President Bush had fallen short on during his two terms.

Fortunately, he has also added some remarks that indicate he shares at least some of my concerns about it:

In embracing the same general approach as Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama ran the political risk of alienating those of his supporters who would prefer that government keep its distance from religion.

But Mr. Obama’s plan pointedly departed from the Bush administration’s stance on one fundamental issue: whether religious organizations that get federal money for social services can take faith into account in their hiring. Mr. Bush has said yes. Mr. Obama said no.

“If you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them — or against the people you hire — on the basis of their religion,” Mr. Obama said. “Federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples and mosques can only be used on secular programs.”

Jul 7 2008

I don't know if Obama is sincere about this or if he's just playing politics. Either way, I wish he'd take a firmer stance on constitutional issues. He taught constitutional law and ought to have a pretty good understanding of it!

One other important question you didn't mention is whether religious groups actually provide services that are as good as the non-religious groups? I think Bush always seems to assume that a church group will provide BETTER services, but I don't think it is likely. A bunch of volunteers each putting in a few hours a year is not likely to do as good of a job as just a couple of full-time experts. At least, the government should look into this question before giving money to a church instead of a non-religious charity to provide some needed service.

Again, it seems that Obama has thought of this as well! According to an article in a Baptist newspaper:

Obama also said that, under his administration, federal funds would only support “those [faith-based] programs that actually work.”

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