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Obama v. Bush on Faith-based Initiatives

1:05 PM, Jul 2, 2008 • By TERRY EASTLAND
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A key issue in the eight years of Bush's faith-based initiative has concerned the authority of religious entities as employers: May they take religion into account when hiring people to do the work that government funds? On numerous occasions Bush has asked Congress to pass legislation confirming such authority--on the argument that otherwise the character and mission of faith-based organizations would be compromised. With Congress refusing to do that, Bush has used executive orders to try to secure that authority. In announcing his faith-based initiative yesterday, Obama made clear that he sides with Congress. Which is to say that under Obama religious charities would not be allowed to consider religion when making their hires. In other words, a Methodist charity could not hire only Methodists or otherwise make Methodism a ground for an employment decision.

Obama's position on this matter is likely to weaken his effort to appeal to religious conservatives. Especially since he also supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (known as ENDA), which would make sexual orientation a forbidden basis for employment decisions--including, necessarily, those made by religious charities taking federal dollars.

For comment on Obama's position, the New York Times went to Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals: "For those of us who believe in protecting the integrity of our religious institutions, this is a fundamental right. He's rolling back the Bush protections. That's extremely disappointing."

Of course, those who believe in protecting the integrity of our religious institutions might decide never to apply for a government grant under any circumstances. Which is to say regardless of what federal employment law says.