We have noted, since Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, that Obama has failed to keep his promises to reform the so-called “faith-based initiatives” begun by George W. Bush. Obama has, until this point, expanded Bush’s programs of government-funded religion with no reform. He specifically pledged in 2008 that he would end the practice of federally-funded religious discrimination, forbidding groups that get government money from creating jobs that are only given to people who have the same religious beliefs as their bosses.
Now, President Obama’s hand has been forced by Congress. In a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties last week, witnesses noted that Obama had provided additional spending for religious groups, but had not followed through with any reform. So, Obama took action, with a half-hearted reform. Obama ordered that groups receiving federal funds not be allowed to deliver social services with those funds at exactly the same time as religious activities are being held. So, now, a government-funded church can’t preach sermons or conduct prayers with people when they’re getting social services paid for by the government.
The religious rituals can instead be pushed onto people dependent on social services immediately before or after the delivery of those services. Religious groups are still allowed to recruit people into acts of religious worship by making it appear that their religion is providing social services, when really, it’s the government that’s doing so.
Furthermore, Obama’s reform fails to address the religious discrimination in employment by programs set up with government money. Churches are still allowed, under Obama’s rules, to take money we provide through taxes, create jobs using that money, and then fire anyone from those jobs who refuses to convert to their specific religious creeds. That’s in direct contradiction to what Obama promised to do in 2008.
So, what’s the big deal? The big deal is that people are getting fired during a time of high unemployment, simply because the don’t engage in particular acts of religious worship. Churches are using the Office of Faith Based Initiatives to exert economic power over families, forcing them to become church members, or lose their homes, their food, the ability to clothe their children.
Testifying at last week’s hearing, Barry Lynn, head of the organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State, observed the corruption that follows from Barack Obama’s refusal to engage in the full reforms of government religion that he once promised: “It will be difficult to truly ward off the temptation to use the Faith-Based Office for political gains or to ensure there will be no religious bias, when the entire existence of the Office indicates a bias towards religion.”
Barack Obama fears reforming the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives because he knows that if churches stop receiving large amounts of government money, they won’t help him organize his re-election campaign in the same way that they helped him organize his 2008 campaign. Like George W. Bush before him, Obama is using churches as political tools.
The creation of government-funded religion through the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives has created a system of mutual dependence. Big churches rely on politicians to steer money their way, and in return, they help those politicians campaign for re-election.
This arrangement is what the first ever U.S. Congress feared, and it’s the reason that the First Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution, forbidding the government to mix itself in any way with any establishment of religion. When governmental leaders are beholden to churches, and when churches are beholden to the government, the proper functioning of our democracy is disabled.
As Barry Lynn suggests, Barack Obama cannot meaningfully reform the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives because the Office is corrupt in its very existence. The White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives should not be reformed. It should be abolished, along with all the government-created religious programs that it supports.