It seemed like a firm campaign promise. Barack Obama pledged to continue President Bush's faith-based office in the White House, but with a key change: Groups receiving federal money would no longer be allowed to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion.
On Thursday, however, as President Obama disclosed the details of his faith-based program, he left the controversial Bush policy in place.
Look, I don't think such a program should even exist in a nation committed to the separation of church and state and I think it should have been abolished. That isn't to say I think churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques shouldn't engage in charity. That kind of community outreach is a laudable enterprise, completely in keeping with most religions tenets, and provides a desperately needed service, especially in times like these. I don't think, however, that government at any level should be pouring funds into those programs because it implies a government sanction of religion.
Even if my belief in an absolute wall between church and state is disregarded, the funneling of federal monies to groups that have discriminatory hiring practices is odious. I assume that was the point Candidate Obama was making while on the trail:
The hiring issue was a major point of controversy between Bush and Democrats. The president signed an executive order in 2002 that paved the way for allowing federal grants to certain groups that hired only people of like-minded religions. Supporters of the policy argued that a small Christian organization, for example, could not operate according to its ideals if it were forced to hire non-Christians.
Obama clearly singled out the policy during a campaign speech in July, declaring that "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." [Emphasis added]
The White House now claims that President Obama has set up a mechanism to deal with such prickly issues:
White House spokeswoman, Jennifer Psaki, said the new executive order "strengthens the constitutional and legal footing" of the faith-based office. She said the order "doesn't resolve all issues at the outset, but it does provide a mechanism to address difficult legal issues."
"On contentious issues like hiring, the president found that one of the problems with the previous initiative was that tough questions were decided without appropriate consideration, data and input from different sides," Psaki said.
This isn't just a "contentious issue," it's a constitutional issue, in fact, a series of constitutional issues, a fact that a man who taught constitutional law should be well aware of. Besides the constitutional mandate against the establishment of religion, there are numerous laws on the books forbidding discrimination on the basis of religion which have been upheld by the Supreme Court. President Obama knows this, but apparently he doesn't care.
I am gravely disappointed.
Labels: Separation of Church and State