Editorial: Obama advocates faith-based plan that trumps Bush's
San Jose Mercury News Editorial
Some Democrats have mocked Barack Obama's advocacy of faith-based social services as traitorous and opportunistic. It is, they say, part of a cloying strategy to move to the political center and cozy up to evangelicals.
In a presidential campaign, all statements and actions can be interpreted, rightly or wrongly, through a narrow lens of political motives. But critics are missing a larger point: What distinguishes Obama as a politician is a willingness to cut across generational, partisan and ideological lines to embrace powerful ideas.
Contracting with religious organizations to deliver social services has come to be identified with President Bush and conservative Christians he sought to involve in it. But the concept of supporting the secular work of ... groups like Catholic Charities and Lutheran Services has proved effective and often inspiring. It is based on the knowledge that government alone cannot revive a distressed community.
Bush and Obama agree on that point. But Bush politicized his faith-based initiative and underfunded it. Nine months after he announced it in 2001 with fanfare as the centerpiece of "compassionate conservatism," the Democrat he picked to lead the initiative, John DiIulio, quit in disappointment.
Obama would create a Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Its initial focus would be a $500 million per year program to provide summer education for 1 million poor children.
Faith-based organizations can be effective in galvanizing volunteers to become engaged in a community, to straighten out the lives of drug addicts and serve as role models for prison parolees and women on welfare. But, in accepting government money, groups must agree not to proselytize and to use grants for strictly secular purposes.
As a community organizer who was funded by Roman Catholic charities in the early 1980s, Obama saw the vital role that churches can play in revitalizing neighborhoods. As a former law professor who taught Constitutional law, he understands the First Amendment pitfalls of funding religious groups.