Change Some Can Believe In?

From the Playboy Blog, July 3, 2008

As a longtime Obama fan, I’ve been preparing for the excruciating anxiety of poll-watching in the months leading up to November’s election. What I wasn’t prepared for was the pain of seeing Obama bend to conservative interests as he attempts to woo independents and moderate Republicans. When I read yesterday’s New York Times headline, “Obama Wants To Expand Role of Religious Groups,” my liberal conscience wanted to reach for an ice pack.

But wait. As it turns out, the Times headline—in fact, the entire article—was misleading. It implied throughout that Obama simply plans to continue and expand President Bush’s White House Office of Faith Based Initiatives (WHOFBI). Barely allowed in a criminal 5-4 Supreme Court decision, the WHOFBI directs federal money to help faith-based—and only faith-based—charities apply for federal grant money, giving religious groups an automatic advantage over secular ones. Obama’s plan, the President’s Council for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, actually rights Bush’s wrongs. It opens funds to secular community groups as well as religious ones and requires rigorous monitoring to ensure that federally funded charities do not proselytize or discriminate when they hire staff.

Why didn’t the Times mention this radical difference, which makes Obama’s policy, unlike Bush’s, constitutional? Well, because Obama barely mentioned it himself. In his speech in Zanesville, Ohio, Obama spoke almost exclusively about the merits of faith-based programs. His addition of secular groups seemed like an afterthought. Obama should be trumpeting his respect for the Constitution; instead, he’s showing sheepish deference to those who think their faith trumps America’s basic principles.

Thanks to our current administration and Supreme Court, the separation of church and state is in jeopardy. If Obama is elected, and if he is backed by a Democratic Congress, he needs to stop pussyfooting around this issue—in his programs, his court nominations, and his rhetoric. As a Constitutional scholar and teacher, a President Obama must stick to his guns. Of course, his stance (or lack thereof) on guns is another issue altogether.

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