The Christian Science Monitor has a great article on Obama's approach to faith-based initiatives. Obama is seeking to expand upon Bush's program, but he is going to tackle the problematic church-state issues head on (h/t Blog from the Capital). During times of crisis economic distress, religious institutions are a valuable resource for helping those in need (think Katrina), and offering federal grants to these religious institutions is a way for the government to provide assistance for working programs in such areas as prisoner reentry, job training, after-school programs, among others. But, how do you fund these programs while rightly maintaining our 1st Amendment freedoms, a tension critics have charged the Bush administration for neglecting?
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Obama is soliciting the advice of multiple advocacy groups from all sides of the ideological spectrum. He is planning on forming a Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships office as the governmental institution to handle, among other things, faith-based initiatives. He will, according to the CSM article, be sensitive to any constitutional concerns over the government establishing religion. For examples, any religious organization that receives these federal funds will not be able to proselytize to the recipients of its services, and the religious organization will not be able to discriminate in their hiring practices based on religious belief, the current top controversy in this area. Also, to help ensure that only constitutional programs recieve tax-payer money, the administration is going to strengthen its evaluation process for potential funding.
I have always thought that faith-based initiatives had an attractive upside but that they could never pass constitutional muster. If Obama addresses these constitutional issues, then I will be pleased - not that Obama is concerned with my opinion or anything. As such, I am cautiously hopeful.