obama and FBI's
Barack Obama is set to endorse the use of federal funds by faith-based social service agencies later today. Moreover, the candidate will also say that he supports, at least to some extent, allowing these agencies to hire and fire candidates on the basis of their religious belief.
In some respects, this decision isn't surprising. Obama comes out of the African-American church tradition, which has long been involved in providing social services to local communities. In following the argument that community groups often do a better job than government at providing social services, it makes sense that we would turn federal money over to these groups. Even if they're churches.
Aside from the questionable constitutionality of such arrangements (and believe me, there are questions), I've ruminated at length in the past as to why I think it's just a bad idea for churches and other houses of worship to accept federal money. When you take money from the government, you also have to accept its rules. And regulations. And regulators. Most churches I know would rather be free from the government's influence, but when you take government money, you invite the government into your church.
(The best way for a church to avoid such a situation is to set its social service activities up as a separate entity from the church itself. Even then, though, the church is allowing government into its mission, which I still find somewhat objectionable.)
In terms of allowing social service agencies to choose whom they employ, that also makes sense on some level. In their devotional ministry activities, churches don't have to hire people who don't profess belief that's in line with their church's doctrine, and it makes sense that they shouldn't have to do the same in social ministries. But the danger is that this is federal money, and I don't like the idea of allowing federally-funded groups to discriminate in their hiring practices.
Another objection I have to the faith-based initiatives program concerns who gets to participate. After all, it's easy to say that my church (and even your church :) should get federal funds to do good things. But what about churches with whose doctrine I vehemently disagree? I bet that the Mormons could run a darn good drug treatment program, but I don't want my tax dollars going to fund it. A college friend ended up being the person who made that choice in Texas for a couple of years. He assured me over and over that he would "just know" who the right groups to give money to were. That wasn't very comforting - one person's instincts are not enough to ensure fairness and equality.
It's extremely disappointing to me that Obama is choosing this stance, but I understand why it's politically expedient for him to do so. This is why I have yet to commit to a candidate in this presidential race. It's so important to find out what the candidates think about a broad variety of issues. Only then can I make a well-informed decision about the good, the bad, and the questionably constitutional.