Another Analysis: Obama’s Faith Based Program

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December 14, 2010; Source: Washington Post | Following on the heels of NPQ’s Cohen Report on President Obama’s faith-based programs executive order, Melissa Rogers, the director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University’s Divinity School, provides a very useful analysis of the converging and diverging elements of the Bush and Obama faith-based programs.

Her very thorough analysis suggests significant continuity between the administrations, for example, a commitment to “allow religious organizations to compete on an equal footing with secular organizations for federal social service funds” and permission for faith-based providers to “provide federally funded social services in buildings containing religious art, scriptures, and symbols.” She also notes, as we have, that “the Obama administration has permitted religious groups to make religion-based decisions regarding government-funded jobs, a policy former President Bush implemented widely,” despite candidate Obama’s commitment to end this practice.

The major changes emanating from President Obama’s November executive order seem to be clarifications of “murky” elements of the faith-based rules. The significant difference that Rogers identifies, outside of the content of President Obama’s executive order, is the Bush Administration’s emphasis on financial partnerships with faith-based organizations in contrast with the Obama Administration’s “heavy emphasis” on non-financial partnerships. Rogers might have expressed this differently, that Bush put money into his program through the Compassion Capital Fund, while Obama’s program has been quite explicit that it doesn’t have money to offer, just information about programs that religious organizations might access in other departments.

Rogers concludes that “more reforms are needed regarding the rules governing financial partnerships,” particularly those that deal with religious discrimination in federally funded hiring. She concludes, “while religious organizations should have full freedom to make religious calls regarding jobs subsidized by tithes and offerings, taxpayers are right to expect to be able to compete for positions created by government grants without regard to their personal religious beliefs or lack thereof.”

She believes that the Obama Administration’s “continuation of certain Bush administration policies is troubling,” and that the administration “should undo Bush policies that broke with a long and proud tradition of equal opportunity in federally funded jobs regardless of religion or creed.” The reluctance of the Obama administration to address this issue is as troubling as its willingness to continue it.—Rick Cohen