First it was Obama's outreach, at a Chicago meeting, to Christian religious leaders. Forget for a second that this outreach effort failed to include Catholics, Muslims, Jews, or other religious/spiritual denominations and beliefs.
Today he announced his newest initiative, the Office of Community and Faith-Based Partnerships:
Obama was unveiling his approach to getting religious charities more involved in government anti-poverty programs during a tour and remarks Tuesday at Eastside Community Ministry in Zanesville, Ohio. ...
Obama proposes to elevate the program to a "moral center" of his administration ... empowering larger religious charities to mentor smaller ones in their communities.
There are several good reasons this initiative is a bad idea, not the least of which is that it's "taxpayer supported religion."
Equally important: It isn't that existing social service agencies don't work. They don't work because they have been underfunded and undercut. Then, because the public sees that they aren't working to meet the social service needs we've demonized them (and the people who run them) as examples of bad government instead of addressing the root problem of underfunding. Here's what George W. Bush has done to bleed the social service safety net dry: (h/t to Paul the Spud)
"The diversion of billions of taxpayer dollars from secular social service organizations to such sectarian religious outfits has been one of the most underreported stories of the Bush presidency. Bush's faith-based initiatives have become a spoils system for evangelical ministries, which are now involved in everything from prison programs and job training to teenage pregnancy prevention, supplanting the safety net that was supposed to catch all Americans. As a result of faith-based grants, a growing number of government-funded social service jobs explicitly refuse to hire Jews, gay people, and other undesirables; such discrimination is defended by the administration and its surrogates in the name of religious freedom. Bringing the disposed to Jesus Christ has become something very close to a domestic policy goal of the United States government. And all this has happened with far less notice or public debate than attended the removal of Terri Schaivo's feeding tube or the halftime baring of Janet Jackson's breast."
Shouldn't our efforts be focused instead on getting these social service safety nets operational again? For everybody? They're already in place in cities and states across the country to provide a lengthy list of help and services that no religious organization or group can hope to imitate under even the best of circumstances.
Finally is the management of such programs. How will such a vast effort be managed to ensure compliance? How much will the public know about their success/failure, or what's really happening behind the scenes? Given the boondoggle that is George W. Bush's "faith-based" initiative, you'd think the message would be clear about the wisdom of giving taxpayer subsidies to religious entities for doing what amounts to the public good. Here's a good analogy: the public housing scandal in Chicago (since this is Obama's home).
During Obama's tenure in the state senate, he and a handful of other legislators approved measures to give taxpayer money to private housing developers to "rehabilitate" and manage Chicago's vast swath of public housing. Simply put, it didn't work. The housing projects fell into complete disrepair, leaving hundreds of residents living in little more than rat- and roach-infested blocks of cinder that leaked, lacked working heat, plumbing, air conditioning units and in some cases windows. The federal government eventually had to intervene and in many cases take ownership of these failed public-private projects in order to get them back on track. This occurred on Obama's watch, with his blessing and support, without any oversight of the money or the "managers". You can read the series here.
And what about hiring and firing based on religion?
...and - in a move sure to cause controversy - support their ability to hire and fire based on faith.
I've already written about the toxic mix of religion and politics. This newest venture is yet another example. Obama's "new and improved" faith-based program is neither new nor improved, no matter how well he and his campaign package it. Simply because he has a "D" behind his name does not make such a policy any more acceptable or right:
Now let the politicians pick up the cue, following advice of one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rushmore face mates.
“Say nothing of my religion,” said Thomas Jefferson. “It’s known to my God and myself alone.”
Or better yet, how about John F. Kennedy's thoughts on the matter?
"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” And, “I believe in a president whose views on religion are his own private affair.”