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Soul searching

"Soul searching" Continued...

Issue: "NextGen worship," July 26, 2008

Bush kept the hiring rule when he created the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and expanded the program to 11 more federal agencies. According to White House officials, faith-based and community groups have received about $7.5 billion in government grants since 2003. (The government has given secular nonprofit groups about $25 billion in the same period.)

When the Salvation Army-a Christian organization that receives a large portion of its budget from the federal government-faced a discrimination lawsuit in 2005, a federal court in New York ruled the organization could require employees to adhere to the organization's Christian faith and mission.

Jim Towey was director of the faith-based initiatives office in the White House from 2002 to 2006. From his office at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., where he now serves as president, Towey told WORLD he doesn't understand why Obama would roll back hiring allowances that began with President Clinton.

For groups like the Salvation Army and small, evangelical organizations, he says, Obama's rule would amount to "slamming the door in their faces." Towey, who is not affiliated with any campaign, added: "The idea of forcing an organization to compromise their principles and identity in order to play ball with the government is, in my view, odious."

Jay Richards of the Acton Institute said Obama's proposal allowed the senator to appeal to religious voters without alienating his liberal base: "This could very easily be used as a sort of quasi-religious cover to fund all sorts of left-wing causes." Richards said evangelicals could be attracted to the plan "if they don't read the fine print. . . . I think Sen. Obama is counting on most voters not looking in detail about what he's proposing."

McCain hasn't pounced on Obama's policy, but campaign spokesman Brian Rogers said that the candidate believes "that it is important for faith-based groups to be able to hire people who share their faith, and he disagrees with Sen. Obama that hiring at faith-based groups should be subject to government oversight."

Richards says McCain's statements indicate he would be less likely to cut off conservative causes and more likely to follow Bush's lead, but he says the candidate will likely need to say more about his plans.

Towey wants to hear more about both candidates' plans, and he says the hiring issue won't go away. He notes that a slew of social-services programs are currently log-jammed in Congress because of disagreements over how to apply the current hiring rules for faith-based groups. Without more clarity, he says, "The poor become the losers because they are denied access to some very effective programs."

On the record

A look at key points in candidates' positions on faith-based initiatives

Obama

  • Create a new Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships
  • Improve training for faith-based groups seeking grants
  • Prohibit faith-based groups from considering religion when hiring employees for federally funded programs

McCain

  • Offer more help to faith-based groups like charter schools and pregnancy care centers
  • Give faith-based groups the same standing as under President Bush
  • Allow faith-based groups to hire people who share their faith
Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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